President Joe Biden’s first foreign policy address at the State Department on Feb. 4 was heavy on platitudes and light on substantive positions, especially for an area that has always been a major concern of previous U.S. administrations for decades.
Like its two predecessors – the Donald Trump administration and Barack Obama – the Biden administration has kept expectations low about its Syrian policy. Veterans of the Obama administration are back in the White House and Foggy Bottom, with little indication that their mission involves significant changes in position, with one major exception: revive the Iran nuclear deal from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018. For those who have waited a decade – in vain – for US leadership to reign in some of the region’s most incendiary forces, that’s another potential disaster.
Now is the time to demand concessions from Iran, which needs the financial benefits of a comprehensive nuclear deal, and from Russia, which needs reconstruction money.
Since the beginning of their popular uprising ten years ago, the Syrians have watched helplessly at the possibility of the Iranian military supporting Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless regime. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) resumed numerous ground operations to brutally crush the rebellion as scores of Syrian soldiers defected to form the Free Syrian Army. As Iranian-backed militias grew steadily in Syria, letting loose over large areas of the country under the strategic leadership of IRGC Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani – until his assassination by the States – United in January 2020 – they have also gained strength in neighboring countries which under their unmatched power. IRanian officials even boasted of having count several Arab capitals as theirs – Sanaa, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut.
In this desolate political landscape, the United States seems to see only the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), currently the least lethal of the many groups operating in the Middle East, as a reason to maintain a small footing. in a devastated country. Syria. He continues to ignore the massive repercussions that millions of refugees are having on the region and European coasts as they multiply exponentially. The United States continues to look the other way as unopposed Iranian imperialism is entrenched throughout the region, leaving a trail of destruction in several countries. And he continues to imagine that Russian power could eventually achieve fragile stability, allowing the United States and its allies to remain mere spectators of the changing dynamics in the region.
The militant group Hezbollah now reigns supreme as a regime in itself in Lebanon, tying its fate to that of the Assad regime and leading the country to implosion. While it had gradually encroached on power over the years, Iran’s uncontrolled ascendancy in the region allowed Hezbollah to spread its wings and assert itself more, openly threatening all other political forces in the country. and continuing to murder critics, more recently. with the murder by journalist Lockman Slim in Beirut.
As Iranian-backed militias rule by terror from Lebanon far beyond eastern Syria and Iraq, Russia has established itself as the go-to kingmaker from its military bases in Syria, managing Syrian defense and political affairs and leaving Assad free to suppress the population.
Yet Russia can neither find a way out of the Syrian quagmire nor persuade the European Union (EU) to finance even partial reconstruction of areas decimated by its air forces. Russian President Vladimir Putin acts like a winner, but his victory depends on his ability to profit from his Syrian investment since Russia armed intervention started in 2015. Its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, was even dispatched to the Gulf to rally support from U.S. allies, such as the United Arab Emirates, who have said it is time to welcome Syria – under its current regime – into the fold of Arab nations.
The United States says it is seeking to change the behavior of the Assad regime and its aides, but has done everything possible to avoid allowing that change. The only actions of the United States have been a sanctions regime Act of Caesar and symbolic support for the political process mandated by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. The wacky constitutional committee he mandated, without a mechanism to enforce the achievement of his stated goals, has given Assad another opportunity to drag his feet as he prepares for his fourth style regime. election to maintain a semblance of normalcy on plots of Syria, while the population crumbles under the crushing weight of the economic downfall.
Until the United States and the EU take new approaches, the situation will continue to worsen for the Syrian people, for the refugees and for the increasingly volatile neighborhood. With this status quo, refugees are unwilling to return; humanitarian aid only serves the regime; millions of Syrians are barely survivor in Idlib province; and Syrians in regime areas collapse under hyperinflation and continued repression. Not only are the circumstances not improving, but they are getting worse every day.
It is imperative that the Biden administration, in coordination with the EU, turns a new leaf in its relations with supporters of the Assad regime and the escalation of the Syrian conflict. The mantra that the regime and its supporters react only to credible threats has never been more precise.
President Biden recently stated that “America is backAnd Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NATO allies that the United States wanted to rebuild their partnerships and revitalize the alliance. Considering the repercussions of the Syrian conflict on them all, Syria is a good place to start.
The United States and the EU must seize the opportunity for further negotiations on the joint comprehensive plan of action to make any agreement with the Islamic Republic conditional on the withdrawal of all militias it supports from Syria and Lebanon. The two countries should be seen as inseparable in this regard.
Syrian public opinion is scathing against the constitutional committee and the well-publicized bickering of the official opposition, but, recently, ideas of military advice to enable Assad’s transition have gained more positive traction in the Syrian rumor. The US and the EU should withdraw support for the Russian-run constitutional committee process until Russia presses Assad and his forces to release all detainees, as the resolution demands. 2254. They must also impose unhindered access to humanitarian aid on all Syrians, making Putin pay a high cost to veto cross-border humanitarian aid.
The US and the EU hold strong political and financial cards vis-à-vis Russia – cards they did not want to use in the Syrian context or any other. Still, Putin is desperate to find a solution to his Assad problem so that reconstruction funds can get to Syria and ease the current financial burden on regime supporters. Unless Putin forces Assad’s hand and restrains the regime’s many militias spreading terror across the country, he knows he bears the burden alone.
The time for moral arguments about the need to contain the Syrian catastrophe has come and gone for a long time. But the time has come to make deals and put credible pressure on Assad’s allies. The regime is shattering at the seams – on the verge of imploding as only its most violent elements manage to maintain their grip on power and only its most ruthless acolytes manage to siphon all incoming aid for their benefit, keeping the spoils of war beyond Putin’s reach.
Without decisive action, the United States will face much bigger problems as the problems continue to escalate. The region may be the first to pay the price, but the results cannot be contained within imaginary borders. Neither the United States nor its regional allies can escape unscathed. After ten years of catastrophic international indecision and inaction, Syria is now the epicenter of the greatest crimes against humanity in modern history and of the collective failure of the world community. It is high time to get out of the fantasy that American interests are not affected by this conflict and that what happens in Syria stays in Syria.
Rhyme Allaf is a writer and specialist on Syria. She is a member of the advisory board of the Middle East Institute’s Syria program and a member of the board of directors of the Syrian organization The Day After. Follow her on Twitter: @rallaf.
Fri, March 27, 2020
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