U.S. LEAVES BE­HIND A MESS IN SYRIA

Wash­ing­ton’s in­abil­ity to pur­sue a co­her­ent pol­icy in the Mid­dle East, par­tic­u­larly in Syria, makes its al­lies feel deeply con­cerned about their re­la­tion­ship with the U.S.

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - KILIÇ BUĞRA KANAT

THE PREDOMINANCE of avoid­ance in re­gards to Syria should make ev­ery­one more con­cerned about the con­se­quences of an­other round of U.S. avoid­ance in the re­gion

Af­ter a long time there is a new wave of ar­ti­cles and opeds in re­gards to the fu­ture of Syria and what kind of role the U.S. should play in it. Es­pe­cially af­ter the emer­gence of Daesh, U.S. pol­icy on Syria fo­cused on the de­struc­tion of Daesh, and pol­icy mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. mostly avoided talk­ing about the con­flict in Syria. De­spite pres­sure from its al­lies, the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­ferred not to have a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy in Syria to ad­dress dif­fi­cult ques­tions in re­gard to bring­ing peace, con­flict res­o­lu­tion, tran­si­tion, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and re­con­struc­tion of Syria. To­day, this (lack of) strat­egy of the U.S. is once again on the ta­ble. Af­ter years of in­ac­tion, in­de­ci­sive­ness and op­er­a­tions with­out a clear strat­egy, now there are again two dif­fer­ent groups try­ing to shape U.S. pol­icy. The in­ter­ven­tion­ists of to­day do not seem to care about the fu­ture of Syria but in­stead mostly fo­cus on the role of Iran in Syria and ar­gue that the U.S. needs to step in to curb the re­gional in­flu­ence of Iran. This is­sue of curb­ing Iran’s re­gional power was also in the last Pres­i­dent Trump speech on for­eign pol­icy. This line of think­ing has some ques­tions to an­swer and needs to be elab­o­rated on as to how to pre­vent a spill over and what will be the risks of a full-scale con­flict with the state of Iran. Th­ese are only some of the ques­tions that have been asked for a while now. Against this group, non-in­ter­ven­tion­ists are sug­gest­ing that the U.S. stay out of Syria.

In a re­cent piece for in­stance, Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokol­sky wrote a “Memo to the Pres­i­dent” ad­vis­ing him that Syria is not a vi­tal Amer­i­can in­ter­est. Af­ter crit­i­ciz­ing the in­ter­ven­tion­ist group and their fo­cus on Iran, they ar­gue, “Syria is not go­ing to emerge as a sta­ble pro-West­ern polity in the or­bit or even sig­nif­i­cantly in­flu­enced by Wash­ing­ton.” Ac­cord­ingly, “The fail­ure of the United States to rise up to stop mass killing has been the norm, not the ex­cep­tion, in U.S. for­eign pol­icy.” It is the same ar­gu­ment that has been con­stantly made since the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion said that it is not a U.S. “mess” and the U.S. has no vi­tal in­ter­est to com­mit its re­sources to the con­flict. It is not clear how im­por­tant the se­cu­rity of U.S. al­lies and the sta­bil­ity of the Mid­dle East is for the U.S. The dam­age to mu­tual trust arose be­cause U.S. poli­cies with its al­lies in the last few years will be hard to fix. And this by it­self needs to be con­sid­ered as a se­ri­ous risk to na­tional se­cu­rity. How about the emer­gence of a failed state in the heart of the Mid­dle East? Such a prob­lem will threaten not only the re­gion but also the sys­tem of in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity. Afghanistan ex­am­ple is still fresh in our mem­ory. Thus, be­fore it is too late, the U.S. needs to take some steps to con­tain and con­trol a failed state.

Although the pres­ence of As­sad af­ter six years of civil war demon­strates the sur­vival of As­sad, this sur­vival did not take place be­cause of his prow­ess and en­durance. The main rea­son for his sur­vival was the en­durance of As­sad’s al­lies, while the U.S. avoided any com­mit­ment to pro­tect and sup­port its part­ners on the ground. The op­po­si­tion in Syria at some point was fight­ing against Hezbol­lah, the Ira­nian mili­tia, the Syr­ian mili­tia, Syr­ian forces and Rus­sian air forces. Air cover was not given to the Free Syr­ian Army (FSA) for years but was pro­vided by Rus­sian air forces to the mili­tia of the As­sad regime. The for­eign fighter prob­lem of the As­sad regime and an in­creas­ing num­ber of fight­ers ar­riv­ing in Syria from dif­fer­ent parts of the world by the spon­sor­ship of the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment has never made sig­nif­i­cant head­lines. And it did not counter the same sen­si­tiv­ity with other ter­ror­ist fight­ers. To­day, as a re­sult of the vac­uum that the U.S. left in the re­gion, Rus­sia has be­come a more sig­nif­i­cant power cen­ter in Syria and in the broader Mid­dle East. The U.S.’s lack of com­mit­ment gen­er­ated a ma­jor de­bate about the cred­i­bil­ity of the U.S. in the whole world. The au­thors also re­fer to a pos­si­ble agree­ment be­tween out­lawed PKK-af­fil­i­ated groups and the As­sad regime af­ter the op­er­a­tion in Raqqa. So is it the exit strat­egy for the U.S. in its re­la­tions with the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG). Many have been ask­ing the mean­ing of the “tac­ti­cal and tem­po­rary” part­ner­ship be­tween the U.S. and the YPG, and un­for­tu­nately there is no clear an­swer to this ques­tion.

It is im­por­tant to know what the cur­rent state of af­fairs will bring for the fu­ture of U.S. pol­icy in Syria. For the au­thors, the best way is to stay out of the con­flict and help neigh­bor­ing coun­tries han­dle the refugee is­sue. In­ac­tion is some­how con­sid­ered the least risky op­tion. This is as such for the U.S. Syria pol­icy for decades now. The un­pre­dictabil­ity of in­ac­tion and high po­ten­tial of fail­ure to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion fol­low­ing un­ex­pected de­vel­op­ments has never been taken se­ri­ously in Syria. This has been partly re­spon­si­ble for the cur­rent level of “mess” in the re­gion. Of course, in­ter­ven­tion­ists have their own prob­lems in their ap­proaches to the con­flict in Syria and in some of their goals. The fact that they were the ones that took the U.S. to war in Iraq demon­strates what kind of ad­ven­ture they can get into. How­ever, at this point the predominance of avoid­ance in re­gard to Syria should make ev­ery­one more con­cerned about the con­se­quences of an­other round of U.S. avoid­ance in the re­gion.

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