Washington has pursued a two-pronged strategy in Syria, trying to tackle ISIS and weaken President Bashar al-Assad and his allies by supporting the Kurds, but these goals risk canceling each other out.
Although many have hoped that the new US administration would readjust its approach to Syria, Donald Trump’s policy appears to be similar to the one carried out by the Obama administration. It entails among other things empowering the Kurds so that they turn into a “double-edged instrument” targeted against Daesh on the one hand and Bashar al-Assad on the other.
Nowadays the United States needs to create alternative centers of power represented by the Kurdish and Arab opposition, which could help to counterbalance excessive ambitions of Damascus and deter Iran, Russia and Turkey. However, Washingon`s actions do not contribute to maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity and fostering constructive cooperation among key stakeholders. There is a single trend at the moment – relations have become increasingly chaotic. As a result, there is a risk that the situation would only become worse since ISIS, which is far from being defeated would exploit these tensions.
The United States is currently focused on the operation aimed at liberating Raqqa, ISIS key urban stronghold in the Middle East. The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of Kurdish and Arab militias, have been tasked with leading the offensive. The SDF is expected to launch the operation in the city proper in April.
Washington’s close ties with the SDF have prompted some to say that the United States has pledged to support Kurdish aspirations for greater autonomy, if not independence. However, the US leadership does not appear to be intent on helping the Kurds create an independent state at the moment.
It should be noted that in 2016, the Iraqi Kurds were preparing for an independence referendum, which did not take place because they felt that not a single major political force in the region or beyond is ready to support them. The Syrian Kurds have achieved a lot in two-three years. They have established administrative institutions and developed the local economy, but they still have not gained credibility with the international community. This is why it is premature to say that the US or anyone else is ready to back them at the moment.