Updated February 2021
A recent interview held with James Jeffrey, the outgoing United States Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the international military intervention against ISIL provides us with a "glimpse behind the curtain" of American policy towards Syria. While many would like to think that James Jeffrey is a product of the Trump Administration, in fact, that could not be further from the truth as shown here:
In the recent past, in an interview with Defense One, Jeffrey has admitted that Washington hide the actual number of United States troops in Syria:
Here is the quote (my bolds throughout):
"But even as he praises the president’s support of what he describes as a successful “realpolitik” approach to the region, he acknowledges that his team routinely misled senior leaders about troop levels in Syria.
“We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is “a lot more than” the roughly two hundred troops Trump initially agreed to leave there in 2019."
Now, let's look at a recent interview with Jeffrey that appeared in Al-Monitor, an award-winning news website that provides reporting from the Middle East
Here is what he has to say about how he (in conjunction with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo) convinced the Trump Administration about the wisdom of dealing militarily with Syria and how Israel was involved in punishing its neighbour:
"Secretary Pompeo and I convinced people in the administration of this: If you don’t deal with the underlying problem of Iran in Syria, you’re not going to deal in an enduring way with IS. We saw this all as one thing.
"We then also had the Israeli air campaign. The US only began supporting that when I came on board. I went out there and we saw Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, and they thought that they were not being supported enough by the US military, and not by intelligence. And there was a big battle within the US government, and we won the battle…
Basically, first and foremost is denial of the [Assad regime] getting military victory. But because Turkey was so important and we couldn’t do this strategy without Turkey, that brought up the problem of the Turkish gripes in northeast Syria. So my job was to coordinate all of that.
So you throw all those together — the anti-chemical weapons mission, our military presence, the Turkish military presence, and the Israeli dominance in the air — and you have a pretty effective military pillar of your military, diplomatic and isolation three pillars.
So that was how we put together an integrated Syria policy that nestled under the overall Iran policy. The result has been relative success because we — with a lot of help from the Turks in particular — have managed to stabilize the situation."
Here is an up-to-date map showing who controls the ground in Syria:
This would suggest that the situation is far from "a relative success".
Here's what Jeffrey has to say about the involvement of Iran in Syria when asked whether he felt that Iran was closer to withdrawing from Syria:
"Well the Iranians have withdrawn a lot of their people. One reason is they’re financially under a great deal of pressure, and Syria is very expensive for them. More and more the Iranians are divesting that back to the Syrians. And they haven’t been able to bail the Syrians out, other than some — under adventuresome conditions — shipments of oil supplies, which sometimes make it, sometimes don’t. I’ll just leave it at that…
The Iranian ability to truly establish a southern Lebanon-style threat to Israel by long-range systems has also been blocked by the Israeli strikes, which are enabled, to some degree, by US diplomatic and other support, which I won’t go into in more detail, but it is significant.
We have basically blocked Iran’s longer-term goals and put its present presence under pressure. Is that enough pressure to get Iran to leave? I don’t know. Whether we can actually roll them back, I don’t know. But I do know that it is absolutely an essential part of any larger agreement. Whatever level of pain we are inflicting on the Iranians, the Russians, and the Assad regime is not going to go away until Iran leaves."
Interestingly, enough, Jeffrey also brings up the topic of U.S. troops in Syria and why they were hiding this information from the President and the American public:
"We at the State Department never provided any troop numbers to the president. That’s not our job. We didn’t try to deceive him. He kept on publicly saying numbers that were way below what the actual numbers were, so in talking to the media and talking to Congress, we had to be very careful and dodge around. Furthermore, the numbers were funny. Do you count the allies that didn’t want to be identified in there? Do you count the al-Tanf garrison? Do you count the Bradley unit that was going in and out?
We were gun shy because the president had three times given the order to withdraw. It was a constant pressuring and threatening to pull the troops out of Syria. We felt very vulnerable and may have been a little bit punch drunk on fear because it made so much sense to us. I understand his concerns about Afghanistan. But the Syria mission is the gift that keeps on giving. We and the SDF are still the dominant force in [northeast] Syria."
Let's close with this final quote from James Jeffrey:
"And of course, we’ve ratcheted up the isolation and sanctions pressure on Assad, we’ve held the line on no reconstruction assistance, and the country’s desperate for it. You see what’s happened to the Syrian pound, you see what’s happened to the entire economy. So, it’s been a very effective strategy."
Basically, to hell with Syrians. After all, it's their fault that Bashar al-Assad is their leader.
Apparently, in James Jeffrey's world, its okay to punish a nation and its beleaguered civilian population for the better part of a decade and hide information from the Commander-in-Chief and the American public just because Washington wanted to see an end to Bashar al-Assad who is still the democratically elected President of Syria. If Washington is interested in ridding the world of a political leader who is deemed to breach human rights, it need look no further than Saudi Arabia.