Ted Galen Carpenter
Security, Middle East
Unfortunately, U.S. leaders seem inclined to blindly back Saudi Arabia whenever and whenever Riyadh’s rivalry with Tehran takes place.
As President Trump muses periodically about a prompt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, he confronts warnings, including from his own foreign-policy advisers, that such a move would risk the onset of greater chaos in that country. He has responded with suggestions that an Arab stabilization force supplement and gradually replace U.S. troops to forestall that danger. However, the replacement force he has in mind would not be a generic “Arab” contingent, as he and other proponents describe. It would consist primarily of personnel from Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.
Such a force would be neither politically neutral nor dedicated to restoring and preserving peace in Syria. Instead it would be the instrument of Sunni Arab power dedicated to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, since the earliest stages of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and 2012, the Gulf powers (along with Turkey) have been intent on that objective. The rebellion against Assad is primarily a Sunni bid for power against Assad’s coalition of religious minorities. As early as 2012, journalists embedded with rebel forces noted that they were virtually all Sunnis. Arrayed against them were Assad’s followers, primarily members of his quasi-Shiite Alawite sect, Christians and Druze. Syrian Kurds were busy pursuing their own agenda of carving out a de facto independent state in the north.