January 2, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 7826

Reactions In Syrian Regime, Hizbullah Circles To U.S. Withdrawal From Syria: Between Sense Of Victory For The Resistance Axis And Fear Of An American-Turkish Conspiracy

January 2, 2019
Lebanon, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 7826

The Bashar Al-Assad regime responded to U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement of the U.S. pullout from Syria with satisfaction over the "American defeat," but also with skepticism regarding the sincerity of the announcement and apprehension that it is merely a ruse. The Syrian regime and pro-regime press published many articles, including one by senior Assad advisor Buthaina Sha'ban, which called the withdrawal an American admission of defeat and of the regime's victory, and even an American "flight" from the battlefield. The withdrawal, they said, signals the failure of America's plans in the region, and was achieved thanks to the prowess of the Syrian army and the sacrifices and steadfastness of the Syrian people.

At the same time, regime officials expressed suspicion that the announcement is a lie and a cover for a new plan to attack Syria. For example, Syrian MP Butrus Marjaneh said on December 20 that "if the statement is genuine, it is an admission that Syria has won," but that the statement "cannot be trusted until practical steps of withdrawal are seen on the ground."[1] This skepticism was also apparent in Syrian press articles, which threatened that if the U.S. forces did not withdraw voluntarily, the Syrian army would drive them out. Some speculated that the withdrawal is part of an conspiracy between the U.S. administration and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, aimed at allowing Turkey to take America's place in Syria, and warned Erdogan against taking such a measure. Yet other articles took the opportunity to condemn and mock the Kurdish forces that operated under U.S. sponsorship. Now that the Kurds have abandoned by their American allies, said the articles, they will have no choice but to return to the fold of the Syrian state under the authority of the Assad regime.

The U.S. decision to withdraw from Syria also evoked responses from members of the Lebanese Hizbullah, who called it a strategic victory for the resistance axis. 

This report reviews the reactions to Trump's decision in the Syrian government and pro-regime press, and by Hizbullah members.

U.S. withdraws from Syria, leaving its "agents" behind (Teshreen, Syria, December 22, 2018)

Assad Advisor Buthaina Sha'ban, Syrian Columnists: The U.S. Has Admitted Defeat And Is Running Away

President Assad's media and political advisor Buthaina Sha'ban claimed that the U.S. was not withdrawing but "fleeing." In her weekly column in the pro-regime Al-Watan daily, she wrote that "whether the Americans withdraw today or tomorrow... they are fleeing this country, which will [now] return to its owners and its people." She added: "I will not discuss the background of the U.S. decision, which was clearly taken by U.S. President Donald Trump several months ago, or the questions of its timing, the timeframe for its implementation or what will come after it – for the answers to all these questions depend on a complex array of political, military and economic factors, and also on strategies having to do with the dying of the old world and the birth of a new one. What interests me is the manipulative explanations provided by some people for this decision, which try to preserve the prestige and the [apparent] might of [the side] that failed and is now fleeing from its shameful and illegal act. These people do not even dare to mention the might of the [Syrian] side, which invested efforts and made sacrifices, and was the main cause of this failure and this flight... It is amazing that, despite the steadfastness of the mothers of the martyrs and the wounded, and despite the huge sacrifices made, some people are still unwilling to reverse the equation or say explicitly that [the Americans] fled thanks to our steadfastness and were defeated thanks to our sacrifices. Even if their flight does not meet our conditions, we will continue acting and sacrificing until we achieve our goals and until the world is persuaded that it is impossible to defeat the rightful owners of the land. All other analyses, which assume... [that the American decision] stems from strength rather than weakness, are manipulative analyses [by those] who are unable to convince themselves that the rightful [owners of the land] changed history and forced the aggressors to flee."[2]

Muhammad Al-Kanaisi, a columnist for the Syrian government daily Al-Ba'th, wrote in a similar vein: "America's decision to pull out its troops is a great achievement for the national Syrian state... With all due respect for the analysis that ascribes the U.S. withdrawal to a change in America's strategic priorities and its [wish to] focus in the next phase on the confrontation with China, or the analysis that attributes [the withdrawal] to economic considerations... [and to the fact that] the occupation is a heavy economic burden for the U.S. – the main reason [for the withdrawal] is the failure of the American plan in Syria and the region. Had this plan succeeded, or had the Trump administration remained confident of its success, President [Trump] wouldn't have taken this [decision]. [But] the man thinks like a businessman who will not continue funding a losing enterprise, especially when the calculation reveals that the loss is not only in money but also in human lives, which comes at a steep political cost that the U.S. president cannot bear [to pay]."[3] 

Other writers also stressed that the pullout is an admission of America's defeat in Syria and of Assad's triumph. Adib Radwan, a columnist for the government daily Teshreen, wrote: "'An admission of defeat' – there is no other way to describe the decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw his forces, whose presence in Syria is illegitimate [in the first place], regardless of the efforts of [various] analysts, politicians and observers to [explain] this decision politically and militarily, and no matter what deals have been struck under and over the table. 'Defeat' is the only label for this decision, [a defeat] cemented by the victories of the Arab Syrian army over the U.S.-sponsored terrorism throughout Syria's territory and by the sacrifices made by the Syrian people all over the country...

"It seems that Trump consulted the weightiest tomes in search of a strategy that will save his reputation, and came upon... the saying: 'If you want to avoid defeat, declare victory and withdraw.' The politically beleaguered Trump declared his imaginary 'victory,' yet his own words betrayed his defeat when he gave two conflicting explanations for his defeatist decision. First he justified his decision by claiming that his forces had 'completed the mission and won the war on the ISIS terror organization.' Then he gave another explanation that completely contradicted the first, saying: 'The extremist organization has not been defeated, but Washington is leaving the task to others, for it will no longer be the world's policeman in the Middle East.' That is what Trump said, writing the American defeat in invisible ink and calling it a victory. The contradictory explanations given by Trump for his decision reveal the clear defeat that cannot be obscured. Another [fact] that cannot be obscured is that Syria, its people, its army and its leadership, with the help of its allies, have won this war, the likes of which the world has never seen..." 

Syrian Articles: The Announcement Of The Pullout May Be A Ruse Coordinated With Turkey; Only Loss Of American Lives Will Cause The U.S. To Leave

While emphasizing the Syrian victory and American defeat, Syrian articles also expressed skepticism regarding America's intention to withdraw its forces from the country. Some speculated that the move may be a ruse, coordinated with Turkey, aimed at letting the latter take America's place as an occupying force in Syria. Some even suggested that the only way to ensure the withdrawal of the U.S. forces is by attacking them and causing them fatalities. 'Imad Salem, a columnist for the Al-Ba'th daily, wrote under the title "Trump and the Lie of the Withdrawal": "The worrying aspect of the decision to withdraw the U.S. forces from Syria is that the entire thing is a lie intended to replace [one] murderer and destroyer with another, to play a game of musical chairs and to perform a reshuffle within the coalition of aggression. This is clear from Turkey's increasingly aggressive statements about waging war east of the Euphrates under the pretext of defending [its] 'national security'...

"America's role [in Syria] complemented the role of the terrorist organizations as part of a carefully constructed [American] plan. This causes us to fear that the entire charade is intended to clear the stage for Turkey's Muslim Brotherhood regime and let it complete what the takfiri organizations and the Americans started. This will expose the region to brutal confrontations with the blood-soaked pan-Turkish regime, whose president [Erdogan] dismisses anyone whose conduct does not conform to his cravings and wishes...

"America's past experience in our region and the world shows that it failed in all its recent wars. Today it is failing to realize its goals in Syria, but it is doing everything it can to avoid a defeat... In light of this, Erdogan has been chosen to complete the plan that was formulated, based on the American administration's familiarity with the personal ambitions of the Turkish president, who may drive the last nail into the coffin of his own regime if he dares take the insane move of [waging] aggression on Syrian soil."[4]      

Mounir Al-Moussa, a columnist for the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra, likewise questioned the sincerity of Trump's announcement and expressed apprehension that it is a cover for a new plan to attack Syria. He wrote: "Trump said hastily and without trepidation that it was time to bring back his troops from Syria, and ended his [announcement] with the words 'now that ISIS has been defeated' by the NATO intelligence apparatuses. [But] much is [still] unknown. There is no clear timeframe for this pullout, and statements by U.S. officials indicate that it will take four months. The entire affair is just a big fuss over nothing, since there is one question the U.S. administration is unable to answer: If the Western coalition claims that it has 'liberated the territories [that were] under ISIS control,' what has it gained by liberating them only to withdraw from them? And why do they say, despite the decision to withdraw, that the war against ISIS has not yet ended?

"The American actions and statements [all] serve the interest of aggression against Syria. Four months gives them enough time to reverse their decision before the withdrawal is complete. This foot-dragging is a cover for a new plan of aggression. [This must be the case] because, unless the booby-trapped American policy leads to huge [American] losses on the battlefield, the shapers of this policy never consider withdrawing their troops. The U.S. has not yet suffered losses in Syria like it did in Vietnam, Lebanon or Iraq, from which American soldiers returned to their homeland in coffins... The U.S. will never give up its ring [of forces] around Syria's oil and gas fields east of the Euphrates unless it encounters resistance. When the first coffins [of U.S. soldiers] arrive in the homeland, the U.S. will give up even [defending] Israel..."[5]

Teshreen columnist Muhyi Al-Din Al-Muhammad also wrote in a threatening tone: "Syria, Iran, Russia and their allies firmly assert that the U.S. presence in Syria is illegal and that the [U.S.] troops are an occupying force. So the American decision to withdraw them [merely] puts an end to an anomalous situation. If it is not [implemented], we are entitled to drive them out in a way that will put an end to these foolish American actions."[6]

Syrian Writers: The Kurds Have Been Abandoned By The U.S., Will Have To Return To The Fold Of The Syrian State

Against the backdrop of Turkey's threats to launch a military operation against the Kurds in northeast Syria, Syrian writers assessed that, after the withdrawal the U.S. forces that have been supporting them, the Kurds will be forced to surrender and bow to the authority of the Syrian regime. Al-Thawra columnist 'Abd Al-Halim Sa'ud wrote: "Those who dreamt up all kinds of scenarios in the region based on the presence of the U.S. forces in Syria [i.e., the Kurds] will have to rethink their aggressive and invasive position, quickly and painfully, and prepare for a new era marked by the victory of Syria and its allies and by a rewriting of all the equations in the region based on this resounding victory. One of the most important messages conveyed by Trump's decision is that the U.S. does not care about principles, alliances or commitments... In fact, it is willing to sell out its allies and friends when necessary, without a thought for their feelings or interests. These fools who tied their fate to the U.S. and betrayed their people, their nation and their causes in order to serve the ever-changing American plans and agendas – will they [now] learn a lesson, or are they unable to learn and heed warnings?"[7]

 Al-Thawra columnist 'Aida 'Am 'Ali wrote in a similar vein: "The most important question that still remains [to be answered] is what the Syrian Democratic Forces, who rely on the Americans and on foreign handouts, will do... now that their dreams and their failed separatist plan have collapsed. The separatists have no choice but to rejoin the Syrian state, which has repeatedly urged them to return to [the fold of] their Syrian homeland, now that the U.S. has renounced them and left them to become easy prey for [Turkish President] Erdogan and his gang."[8]

Hizbullah: The Withdrawal Is A U.S. Failure And A Strategic Success For The Resistance Axis

As stated, the U.S. decision to withdraw from Syria also evoked responses from the Lebanese Hizbullah, which is fighting in Syria alongside the regime. Hizbullah spokesmen saw the decision as another in a series of U.S. failures in the region and as evidence of the weakening of the "American-Zionist-Saudi triangle." Hizbullah deputy secretary general Na'im Qassem said: "The U.S. has failed in several parts of the region. It did not succeed in Iraq and Lebanon, and it has failed to support Israel. It did manage to support the crime against Yemen, but failed in Syria. After seven years, Syria has managed to liberate large parts of its territory. The U.S. despaired of achieving anything tangible, so Trump announced the withdrawal. When the Syrian army and its allies liberated Deir Al-Zor, the Americans [deployed their forces] east of the Euphrates as a barrier to protect ISIS... The U.S. is the one that has delayed the elimination of ISIS east of the Euphrates and in the Deir Al-Zor area for some 18 months, because it wants to replace ISIS with other [terrorists]. The U.S. is defending ISIS."[9]

Nabil Qaouq, a member of Hizbullah's central council, said: "The changes in the region have weakened the American-Zionist-Saudi triangle. The defeat of the U.S. forces in Syria is a sign of this triangle's failure. No matter what the background of the American defeat in Syria, it is a strategic success for the resistance axis. The Middle East will surely be a better place if the U.S. withdraws from all of it."[10]    


[1] Al-Watan (Syria), December 20, 2018.

[2] Al-Watan (Syria), December 24, 2018.

[3] Al-Ba'th (Syria), December 24, 2018.

[4] Al-Ba'th (Syria), December 21, 2018.

[5] Al-Thawra (Syria), December 21, 2018.

[6] Teshreen (Syria), December 23, 2018.

[7] Al-Thawra (Syria), December 24, 2018.

[8] Al-Thawra (Syria), December 23, 2018.

[9], December 20, 2018.

[10], December 23, 2018.

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