TEHRAN (Press Shia) – A former US Senate foreign policy analyst said the US military presence in Syria had nothing to do with the campaign against the Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) terrorist group because Washington had sent the troops to block Iranian influence there.

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“Whatever his (Trump’s) terrible, horrible, no good, very bad national security team told him, the US presence in Syria was never about Daesh,” Washington-based political analyst James Jatras said in an interview with the Press Shia News Agency.

“We are there as Uncle Sam's Rent-an-Army for the Israelis and Saudis to block Iranian influence and especially an overland route between Syria and Iran (the so-called “Shiite land bridge” to the Mediterranean),” he said.

“Thus the claim an American pullout will lead to a Daesh ‘resurgence’ is absurd,” Jatras said, adding, “With US forces ceasing to play dog in the manger, the Syrians, Russians, Iranians, and Iraqis will destroy Daesh.”

James George Jatras is Deputy Director of the American Institute in Ukraine, a privately funded American NGO.  Based in Washington, DC, he is a former US diplomat and adviser to the US Senate Republican leadership.

The full text of the interview with Jatras is as follows:

Press Shia: As you know, US President Donald Trump has recently decided to withdraw all US troops from Syria. Given that Trump is a businessman and thinks only about profit, what are the reasons behind this decision? What do you think about the possibility of a total withdrawal? Would he keep US strongholds in Syria?

Jatras: In 2016, Trump made it clear he wanted (troops) out of Syria as well as Afghanistan. However, the establishment’s national security team he installed around him repeatedly talked him out of acting on his own impulses, claiming they were “experts” who “knew better.” Why he decided to overrule them now is unclear. Perhaps Erdogan’s threat to invade the YPG-controlled area whether Americans were present there or not gave Trump the excuse he needed. In any case, getting the people under his command to actually carry out his wishes will be difficult. The entire establishment, including the otherwise pro-Trump Fox News, are dead set against him. Senator Lindsey Graham is demanding hearings on how to block the Syria pullout. Congress hardly ever quibbles with a president’s putting troops into a country, where the Legislative Branch has legitimate Constitutional power. But if a president under his absolute command authority wants to pull them out – even someplace where they’re deployed illegally, as in Syria – well, that’s not permissible. We are being told our getting out of Syria and Afghanistan will be a huge “gift” to Russia and Iran. Worse, it is being compared to Barack Obama’s “premature” withdrawal from Iraq (falsely pointed to as the cause of the rise of Daesh) and will set the stage for “chaos.” By that standard, we can never leave anywhere. It is an open question whether pullout will take place, especially given the danger of another false flag chemical or other provocation as we’ve seen in the past. (A provocation in Ukraine could also be used as a reason not to “reward Russia” by pulling out of Syria.) It’s possible that even if the US leaves the main YPG zone, there will be an attempt to remain in the area around al-Tanf that is not being threatened by Erdogan. Finally, there may be an attempt to leave behind covert intelligence assets or private contractors as “leverage” over a settlement.

Press Shia: Trump’s withdrawal plan has been met with widespread opposition inside and outside the US. France's President Emmanuel Macron has said he deeply regrets the controversial decision. “An ally must be dependable,” said Macron, who reportedly called Trump to warn him against the plan. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the US envoy to the global coalition fighting the Daesh terrorist group, Brett McGurk, resigned in protest over Trump’s decision. In your opinion, why is Trump insisting on his decision?

Jatras: Mattis’s and McGurk’s resignations are one of the big bonuses from Trump’s decisions on Syria and Afghanistan. If there’s any luck, Bolton and Pompeo will go too. Trump’s claim that the US has completed its only mission, to defeat Daesh, is being compared to George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner following defeat of Iraq’s army and the beginning of the occupation (and, as it turned out, the beginning of the real war). But if it helps get us out, who cares if Trump wants to take credit? Whatever his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad national security team told him, the US presence in Syria was never about Daesh. We are there as Uncle Sam's Rent-an-Army for the Israelis and Saudis to block Iranian influence and especially an overland route between Syria and Iran (the so-called “Shiite land bridge” to the Mediterranean). For US forces the war against ISIS was always a sideshow, mainly carried on by the Syrians and Russians and proportioned about like the war against the Wehrmacht: about 20% “us,” about 80% “them.” The remaining pocket Daesh has on the Syria-Iraq border has been deliberately left alone, to keep handy as a lever to force Assad out in a settlement (which is not going to happen). Thus the claim an American pullout will lead to a Daesh “resurgence” is absurd. With US forces ceasing to play dog in the manger, the Syrians, Russians, Iranians, and Iraqis will destroy Daesh.

Press Shia: Some analysts say that the US withdrawal would be a victory for Iran. What is your assessment of the Islamic Republic’s role in developments which led Trump to take such a decision?

Jatras: Clearly, Iran’s cooperation with Syria and Russia, and intermittently with Turkey (given the zigzags of Erdogan’s policy) have blocked the “regime change” agenda of the Washington establishment. It needs to be kept in mind that the whole conflict has been because we (the US, plus Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, UAE, the United Kingdom, etc.) are the aggressors. We sought to use al-Qaeda, Daesh, and other Salafist militants to effect regime change via the tried and true method. It failed. Regarding Trump’s critics’ claim that he is turning over Syria to the Russians and Iranians, Assad is nobody's puppet. He can be allied with a Shiite theocracy but not controlled by it; Iran, likewise, can also have mutually beneficial ties with an ideologically dissimilar country, like it does with Christian Armenia. The Russians will stay and expand their presence but unlike our presence in many countries – which seemingly never ends, for example in Germany, Japan, and Korea, not to mention Kosovo – they'll be there only as long and to the extent the Syrians want them. (Compare our eternal occupations with the Soviets’ politely leaving Egypt when Anwar Sadat asked them, or leaving Somalia when Siad Barre wanted them out. Instead of leaving, why didn’t Moscow kill Sadat or Barre like we killed South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963?) It seems that American policymakers become so hypnotized by their own paranoid fantasies about the rest of the world – and it can't be overemphasized, concerning areas where the US has no actual national interests – that we no longer recognize classic statecraft when practiced by other powers defending genuine national interests (which of course are legitimate only to the extent we say so).