BASHAR AS­SAD, IRAN JUST REACHED POINT OF NO RE­TURN IN SYRIA

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page -

On Fri­day evening, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump stood be­fore tele­vi­sion cam­eras to an­nounce that he had or­dered the U.S. Armed Forces to launch “pre­ci­sion strikes” against regime po­si­tions in Syria. The an­nounce­ment came a week af­ter Bashar As­sad car­ried out a chem­i­cal at­tack against in­no­cent civil­ians in Douma, a small town near the Syr­ian cap­i­tal Da­m­as­cus, claim­ing dozens of ca­su­al­ties. Tur­key wel­comed Wash­ing­ton’s de­ci­sion, which, it said, “eased hu­man­ity’s con­science.”

In light of the most re­cent de­vel­op­ments in Syria, it has be­come clear that the As­sad regime should not sur­vive. Nor can the Syr­ian dic­ta­tor, who has killed hun­dreds of thou­sands of his coun­try’s cit­i­zens, play any role in the fu­ture of Syria.

In re­cent years, the Syr­ian regime re­peat­edly mis­led the United States and Rus­sia, along with oth­ers, into be­liev­ing that it would aban­don its chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram. At the time, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity was so ea­ger to be­lieve that it was mak­ing some progress in Syria that the 2013 No­bel Peace Prize was awarded to the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW) for its “ex­ten­sive ef­forts to elim­i­nate chem­i­cal weapons.” To no­body’s sur­prise, it turned out that the Syr­ian regime in­deed had a large amount of chem­i­cal weapons at its dis­posal.

In ret­ro­spect, the fact that the same peo­ple thought U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, whose in­ac­tion en­cour­aged As­sad to mas­sacre in­no­cent peo­ple, de­served a “peace prize” should have been telling.

At this point, As­sad of­fers lit­tle and does sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to his al­lies. To be clear, it makes no sense for the Syr­ian regime’s pro­tec­tors to con­tinue their sup­port. For the Rus­sians, it is time to aban­don the crim­i­nal in Da­m­as­cus and work with Tur­key and oth­ers to shape the coun­try’s fu­ture. There are many op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Mid­dle East that Moscow could seize – but only if it stops car­ry­ing the dead weight of As­sad and his atroc­i­ties.

But the prob­lems in Syria are not lim­ited to the regime and their so­lu­tion re­quires the sup­port of West­ern coun­tries as well. France, for in­stance, could play a con­struc­tive role in Syria. In ad­di­tion to work­ing to­ward the preser­va­tion of the coun­try’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, Paris can build on its his­tor­i­cal re­la­tions with the Syr­ian Arabs to pro­mote a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion. The ob­vi­ous ob­sta­cle be­fore France’s ef­forts to max­i­mize its in­ter­ests in Syria is the French gov­ern­ment it­self. If French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron opts to pro­tect the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion PKK and its Syr­ian branch, the Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), be­cause he wants to get back at Daesh for the Paris and Nice ter­ror at­tacks, his coun­try will pay a heavy price. Fight­ing a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and ad­dress­ing the threat posed by re­turn­ing for­eign fight­ers is a se­ri­ous chal­lenge – which France could ad­dress by help­ing to re­store peace and sta­bil­ity in Syria and co­op­er­at­ing with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in­stead of hav­ing a knee-jerk re­ac­tion.

It is time for the United States to present the world with a co­her­ent Syria pol­icy – right af­ter U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the Pen­tagon, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand (CENT­COM), the State De­part­ment and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton sign off on the same plan.

Un­til now, Wash­ing­ton has put a Band-Aid on a bul­let wound. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to part­ner with non-state ac­tors in­stead of mak­ing ac­tual de­ci­sions was doomed to fail. Re­tal­i­at­ing against the As­sad regime’s chem­i­cal at­tacks is not an ac­tual pol­icy ei­ther. Nor did at­tempts by the United States to sab­o­tage the As­tana process and the Sochi talks amount to a pol­icy.

Wash­ing­ton’s lack of a co­her­ent pol­icy hurts its rep­u­ta­tion in the Mid­dle East. Peo­ple around the world know that last week­end’s re­tal­ia­tory strikes amounted to noth­ing but a fa­cade. There are a num­ber of smart and re­sult-ori­ented steps that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could take in co­op­er­a­tion with Tur­key and Rus­sia – in­clud­ing in the fight against Daesh ter­ror­ism. By tap­ping into Tur­key’s vast diplo­matic ex­pe­ri­ence, Wash­ing­ton could ad­dress ten­sions with Rus­sia and keep its eye on the prize. Al­though Pres­i­dent Trump made an im­por­tant point in his an­nounce­ment, de­vel­op­ing long-term so­lu­tions is the ul­ti­mate an­swer. The United States has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that in­no­cent civil­ians are not killed – with chem­i­cal or con­ven­tional weapons.

There is a way the U.S., Rus­sia and France can join Tur­key to make peace pos­si­ble in Syria. How­ever, there is one fac­tor that all par­ties con­cerned need to take ac­tion against and that is Iran’s sec­tar­ian ex­pan­sion­ism. It has be­come the main source of in­sta­bil­ity and vi­o­lence in the wider re­gion. Par­tic­u­larly due to its long-stand­ing con­flicts with the West and re­gional pow­ers, Tehran’s in­volve­ment in any at­tempt to re­solve the Syr­ian cri­sis makes things com­pli­cated and causes un­nec­es­sary suf­fer­ing for the peo­ple of Syria. Iran prefers to sew sec­tar­ian ha­tred rather than en­cour­age co­op­er­a­tion. Tehran has ex­ploited the good­will of Tur­key and a hand­ful of other coun­tries, which want to avoid un­nec­es­sary vi­o­lence and po­lar­iza­tion in the re­gion.

What Syria needs is an end to Iran’s sec­tar­ian pol­icy and this can only hap­pen if the re­main­ing ac­tors co­op­er­ate in in­sti­tut­ing a new gov­ern­ment in Syria with­out As­sad. The Syr­ian peo­ple de­serve the com­mit­ment of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to en­sure the end of blood­shed and the in­tro­duc­tion of peace. They have suf­fered enough.

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