Understanding the Differences in US Military Aid


Why did Washington rush to provide political and military support to Ukraine, while hesitating with Syria, also resisting attacks from Russia?

At the start of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Washington initially pursued a policy of strong rhetoric and sanctions, combined with an attempt to convince other countries to act against Moscow.

But with the growing successes of the Ukrainian military and growing domestic and international pressure, the mood has changed. The United States announced two weapons packages to support the Ukrainian armed forces in their efforts to protect their soil.

While the move by the United States to be more active has been welcomed in the transatlantic community, it has raised questions, particularly among Syria watchers, about why Syrians who have fought and continue to resist to a regime of Bashar al Assad supported by Russia and Iran have not seen the same thing. political and military-financial mobilization.

The different approach of the United States vis-à-vis Ukraine and Syria is based on three aspects: the levels of geopolitical priority that Washington assigns to the two countries, the international climate and cultural affinity. .

A comparison of military aid

The United States recently announcement a new arms package for Ukraine worth $150 million, as the war-weary country entered its eleventh week of conflict with Russia. This was preceded by a military aid program worth $800 million authorized at the end of April.

President Joe Biden also asked $33 billion Congressional Ukraine Assistance Program. He reiterated his request last week, saying that for Ukraine to succeed against Russia, the United States and its allies must ensure the continued flow of arms and ammunition into the country.

On the other side, the Syrians fighting against Russia, Iran and the Assad regime in Syria have received much less military aid and this has mainly focused on the fight against Daesh. Yet even in this context, instead of supporting the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime and its allies, the United States preferred to support the YPG/PKK terrorist group under the guise of fighting Daesh.

According to a training and equipment program approved by the United States Senate, the United States approved expenditures of $1.95 billion for the period from 2017 to the end of 2023, which is approximately $279 million per year.

US military aid allocated to counter Russia, Iran and the Assad regime was about half of the amount set aside to fight Daesh. The American intelligence services had set up a secret program of a billion dollars named wooden sycamore to support the moderate Syrian armed opposition against the Assad regime and Iran. When Russia intervened in the war in 2015, this covert program successfully halted any initial Russian offensive by supplying the rebels with TOW anti-tank guided missile systems.

Even though US military aid to the Syrians against Russia was relatively small and comprised of old Soviet-made weapons systems mostly purchased from the Balkan states, they were effective. During the first months of the Russian intervention in Syria, the rebels used TOW anti-tank missiles against Russian tanks. The number of missiles used has decreased over time. Until the end of the Timber Sycamore program in July 2017 following a decision by former President Donald Trump, the Syrians have used dozens of TOW missiles against Russian and Iranian-backed forces, and in some cases directly against the Russian military.

As military support dwindled, Syrian rebels increasingly lost ground to Russian-backed military offensives. Between the years 2017 and 2020, the rebels lost the strongholds of Ghouta, Qalamun, rastan, Deraa and most of Idlib and the surrounding territories of the Hama and Aleppo regions.

calls by the official representative of the Syrian people, the Syrian National Coalition, for military aid to counter Russia in the Middle Eastern country after the start of the Russian assault on Ukraine found no resonance in Washington.

Different contexts

For Washington, the geographical location of Syria and its geopolitical importance were not a priority. American policy in the Middle East focused on Israel, the Gulf States and Iraq; it did not include a strategic vision for Syria. The war came on the heels of America’s experiences in the Iraq War and Libya and amid its pivot to East Asia.

Combined with uncertainty in the White House about what would await them in Damascus if the Assad regime fell, the Obama administration hesitated to act – then-President Barack Obama did not even not followed through on its “red line” of a chemical weapons attack after the 2013 nerve agent attack in Ghouta.

But a Russian military victory in Ukraine, especially in the context of 2022, would create significant geopolitical and security challenges for NATO and the United States. While the international outcry over Syria was portrayed as humanitarian in nature, in Ukraine it is portrayed as geopolitical and security-based – thus much more effective from a political selling point of view. Similar hesitation would not be tolerated by European states and US NATO allies, as well as domestic publics who would punish such a move with adequate measures.

The international atmosphere and the Zeitgeist vis-à-vis Russia have changed considerably since the war in Ukraine. More states and more actors would now be open to the idea of ​​limiting Russia in other spheres of the world and more people understand that inaction in the face of Russian crimes in Syria helped facilitate the Russian attack against Ukraine.

The cultural affinity of Ukrainians with Europe is also of great importance. Although harder to measure, the repeated rhetoric of “blonde hair and blue eyes” in media coverage of the conflict in Ukraine symbolizes not only the difference in attitude towards refugees, but also that of military solidarity. Meanwhile, the media discourse surrounding Syrians opposed to Russia has come in the context of the post-9/11 “war on terror”. Therefore, media depictions of bearded Syrian Arab men chanting “Allahu Akbar” were not viewed favorably – to put it mildly.

American foreign policy has not been and probably will not be motivated primarily by humanitarian concerns. Just as European states reacted differently to Ukrainian and Syrian refugees, the United States reacted differently to Syrians and Ukrainians resisting Russian attacks.

That said, the question remains as to why the Biden administration continues to show so little interest in Syria and still fails to see the value of Syria in confronting and limiting Moscow.

We understand why the two conflicts are perceived differently in Washington. Yet what is unclear is why the difference is so great. It reflects the inconsistency of US foreign policy to have such a low profile in providing military aid to Syrians resisting Russian-facilitated regime aggression.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views and editorial policies of TRT World.

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Source: World TRT

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