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Trump's Civilian Advisors Want a Full-Blown War in Southern Syria "Against Iran"

National Security Council members want a US ground offensive against the Syrian Army and allied militias

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

We think the US posture in Southern Syria (carving out an occupation zone, killing Syrian army troops) is plenty bellicose enough, but for some it's still not quite self-righteous and aggressive enough.

Two National Security Council members are pushing for the US to go on an offensive against the Syrian army and allied Shia militias:

A pair of top White House officials is pushing to broaden the war in Syria, viewing it as an opportunity to confront Iran and its proxy forces on the ground there, according to two sources familiar with the debate inside the Donald Trump administration.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council, and Derek Harvey, the NSC’s top Middle East advisor, want the United States to start going on the offensive in southern Syria, where, in recent weeks, the U.S. military has taken a handful of defensive actions against Iranian-backed forces fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Doubtlessly, the first move in such an offensive would be an attack on the Syrian base on the Syrian-Iraqi border, to the east of the Americans at al-Tanf which:

  • Connects Syrian-government held Syria with Iraqi-government held Iraq, enabling Iraqi anti-ISIS militias to easily move back and forth
  • Cuts off US-occupied southern Syria from ISIS-held territory, blocking its way in that direction 

The two Trump advisors are talking about such a war in the context of "countering Iran" but that is disingenuous and irrelevant. It's a good way to sell the idea inside the bitterly anti-Iranian Trump administration, but a full-blown US war in southern Syria would be a war against Syria much more so than against Iran. 

The two NSC advisors were brought in by Mike Flynn and had both worked under him at DIA. Flynn was a big anti-Iranian kook himself; for instance, he believed Iran was behind the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya. 

Flynn has since been forced out, but the pair has proven untouchable:

McMaster tried to move Cohen-Watnick to a different job within the NSC when he took over as national security advisor. To save his job, Cohen-Watnick appealed to two key advisors — Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner — who then asked Trump to block the move.

Harvey has also tried to outmaneuver his boss. He tried to get so-called Obama holdovers fired from the National Security Council by appealing to the president and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon. But McMaster refused.

So far the generals, Mattis at DoD and Dunford at the Joint Chiefs, are said to be resisting the push and advising against it. But they undoubtedly prefer pressure for more war, to pressure for less.

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