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In Syria, Russian bad faith turns fatal

David Ignatius on

How to add up the balance sheet? The U.S. military showed its overwhelming military dominance in the areas it controls in eastern Syria. Russian-backed forces paid dearly for their unprovoked and, it seems, deceitful attack. But the incident also demonstrated the fragility of the U.S. role in Syria, politically and diplomatically.

It matters in understanding this event that the base the pro-regime force attacked is near an oil- and gas-rich field known as Conoco, after its former American owner. The SDF seized it from the Islamic State last September and has been guarding it ever since.

The Wall Street Journal reported last Sept. 25, just after the Kurds initially seized the area, that they wanted it as "a bargaining chip." An SDF commander told the Journal back then: "Our goal is to prevent the regime from taking the areas of oil which will enable it to regain control of the country like it was before."

The Russian Defense Ministry issued a lame statement Thursday, claiming that the attackers were chasing Islamic State fighters. That's nonsense, as the Russians surely knew. There are no Islamic State fighters left in that area, thanks to the U.S.-led coalition. So what's the United States doing there now? The Russian statement made a telling argument that the U.S. military is "taking control of the country's economic assets," not just fighting terrorists.

Score one for American military power against Russia's tactic of operating through deniable "Little Green Men." But there's no plus for the larger American mission. This incident only underlines the precariousness of the United States' long-term role in Syria.

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David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group


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