James Jeffrey, the US special envoy for Syria and defeating the Islamic State, has made quite a frank confession of how he sees his job and that of US troops there: to create a new Vietnam or Afghanistan for Moscow.
“Our military presence, while small, is important for overall calculations. So we urge the Congress, the American people, the president to keep these forces on, but again this isn’t Afghanistan, this isn’t Vietnam, this isn’t a quagmire,” Jeffrey said on Tuesday, during a video event hosted by the Hudson Institute.
My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians.
The arrival of the Russian expeditionary force in late 2015, following an invitation from Damascus, turned the tide of war in Syria. With their assistance, government forces rolled back both Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists and other militants, including Al-Qaeda affiliates, on multiple fronts – and scuttled US plans for regime change in Damascus.
Jeffrey grudgingly admitted the Russian military has been successful in Syria, but argued “they don’t have a political way out of their problems” with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the US aims to offer “a way forward” through the UN – presumably referring to Resolution 2254 that Washington has long interpreted as “Assad must go.”
The envoy’s admission on Tuesday is a step beyond his remarks in early March, when he told reporters on a conference call that the US aims to “make it very difficult” for Russia to help the Syrian government achieve a military victory.
While US President Donald Trump repeatedly rejected nation-building interventions in the Middle East and sought to withdraw US troops from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, he has repeatedly faced resistance from the State Department and the Pentagon, still set on the previous administration’s strategy of regime change.
Jeffrey’s mention of a “quagmire” like Afghanistan is particularly ominous, given that’s precisely what the Carter administration did in 1978, covertly supporting Islamic militants in that country in order to provoke a Soviet intervention. According to Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, this was done to lure the USSR into their own costly, never-ending war such as the US experienced in Vietnam
Brzezinski boasted of his own role in those efforts, dismissing the fallout of Islamist terrorism that the conflict generated as irrelevant compared to US victory in the Cold War – shortly before the September 11, 2001 attacks triggered a US invasion of Afghanistan that the Trump administration is still struggling to extricate troops from.