SUMMARY: Hassan Hassan, fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy focusing on Syria and Iraq, and Center for Global Policy digital content director Farah Sheikh discuss the situation in Syria and perceptions of the U.S. interests there.
The problem of Syria is complicated, with too many players and too many issues and even more issues emerging, Hassan says. However, it is clear that the United States’ overreliance on one group of local fighters — the YPG (People’s Protection Units), a Kurdish militia — is creating more problems. Washington’s support for the YPG in the fight against ISIS makes it look like the United States is ignoring other groups and the fight against the Syrian regime. The dominant thinking on the United States’ part is that it makes sense to focus on ISIS and prioritize that fight over the rebels’ struggle and the problems caused by Washington’s reliance on the YPG.
Another problem with the U.S. reliance on the YPG is that the group has been accused of some level of ethnic cleansing. The growing perception in Syria is that the United States could restrain the YPG but has not and is therefore complicit in the YPG’s actions. This situation is creating tensions between Kurds who side with the YPG and Kurds who do not, and among Arabs who believe the YPG is beneficial and Arabs who do not. Furthermore, Turkey has labeled the YPG as a terrorist organization because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey considers the rise of the YPG in Syria a national security threat.
Hassan explains that the U.S. reliance on the YPG is becoming counterproductive. The tensions arising because of the United States’ focus on the YPG could lead to a re-emergence of ISIS or the rise of another extremist group. Hassan says there are plenty of moderate nationalist forces among Syria’s rebel groups that could work with the United States, and Washington needs to reach out to the rebels and show that it is on their side.