FILE – In this Feb. 6, 2017 file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stands outside the Pentagon. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
Why are we in Syria?
It’s a fair question that deserves an answer, but answering it doesn’t change the fact that the United States is in Syria and it’s pretty intense at the moment. Which fact carries its own secondary questions.
SecDef Mattis reveals Russia was able to get pro-regime Russian mercenaries that had been amassing east of the Euphrates River, near US troops in Syria, to pull back following talks between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Dunford & his Russian counterpart, Gen. Gerasimov
— Ryan Browne (@rabrowne75) March 27, 2018
Rumors of good news have surfaced out of Syria, a rare occasion worthy of note. After Russia’s General Gerasimov and America’s General Danforth spoke directly, it was reported Secretary of Defense James Mattis indicated that Russian mercenaries amassed along the Euphrates opposite American Special Forces in Syria will pull back. The militaries communicating directly is the natural progression after Rex Tillerson left the U.S. State Department in shambles and Congress doesn’t seem in a hurry to confirm anyone new — or do anything productive in general for that matter.
But have no fear, RedState has you covered.
There are three things happening between the lines to take away from this story. First, the US is going to be required to have, at the very least, a working relationship with Moscow and a tone needs to be set. Firm, but polite, is Mattis’ specialty and it seems all involved see him as an honest broker. What America needs is for the Russians to militarily stay out of its way. It’s best to remove respective domestic politics from this equation as there are already enough volatile variables.
Second, why does a media obsessed with Russia colluding to sway an election not blast a humiliating narrative for the Russians all over the airwaves? At best Russia can’t control their mercenaries and, at worst, they can’t budge the Americans in Syria. Yet a media that seems hostile to Russia doesn’t pick up on this despite being desperate for any news that further demonizes Russia. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Finally, this informal agreement proves Moscow knew who the mercenaries employed by Wagner were and what they were doing without Moscow having to admit it. This should have journalists watering at the mouth, but gets little attention in the age of Stormy Daniels and the political activism of high schoolers. Not only did they back away, but in doing so Russia admitted it was in eastern Syria pushing towards the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and US Special Forces, not the Islamic State, which undercuts the counterterrorism narrative they’ve sold the global community as an explanation for their involvement in Syria.
Perhaps it is practical to let the Russians off easy at this moment in Syria, not least because Moscow’s precarious position rests on Iran’s ground forces and US policies to undercut Russia indirectly by attacking Tehran’s troops appear imminent. But as the conflict winds down Americans should be told why they have service members still in Syria, especially as tensions along the Euphrates with Turkey coming to a head. The question of how to “deconflict” with Russia in Syria and how to coexist globally are not going away anytime soon. Both they and Iran have ambitions in Africa where the US has also quietly pivoted.