SYRIA AND U.S. CRED­I­BIL­ITY

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

AF­TER the rel­a­tive weak­en­ing of the non-state armed groups in Syria, the main risk is po­ten­tial con­flicts among the na­tion­states around Syria

The U.S. pol­icy on Syria over the last seven years has been noth­ing short of an enigma. In fact, we have con­stantly de­bated whether it ac­tu­ally had a pol­icy on the Syr­ian civil war. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lack of strat­egy gen­er­ated a very se­ri­ous cred­i­bil­ity is­sue for U.S. for­eign pol­icy. That has had a ma­jor ef­fect on U.S. re­la­tions with its al­lies in Europe and the Mid­dle East.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, this lack of cred­i­bil­ity has also af­fected U.S.-Turkey ties. Pres­i­dent Obama’s “red line” state­ment and what hap­pened in its af­ter­math – the failed “train and equip” pro­gram and the un­ful­filled prom­ises in Man­bij – gen­er­ated the big­gest cri­sis of con­fi­dence in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. Af­ter the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump, one of the most sig­nif­i­cant ex­pec­ta­tions from the new ad­min­is­tra­tion was a co­her­ent Syria strat­egy.

In its first year in of­fice, the ad­min­is­tra­tion mostly dis­ap­pointed those who were ex­pect­ing a change. How­ever, last Jan­uary we started to see the signs of a change when Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son an­nounced a new Syria strat­egy for the U.S. Although many crit­i­cized Tiller­son’s ob­jec­tives in Syria for lack­ing a strat­egy or road map, it was still im­por­tant to un­der­line the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s will­ing­ness to do some­thing about a Syria pol­icy. Tiller­son’s state­ments were later over­shad­owed by his de­par­ture from the State De­part­ment and by Pres­i­dent Trump’s state­ments on the U.S. leav­ing Syria and the con­stant changes in his for­eign pol­icy team. How­ever, with the re­cent ap­point­ment of Am­bas­sador James Jef­frey, we have started to see a se­ri­ous move to­wards for­mu­lat­ing and im­ple­ment­ing a work­ing Syria strat­egy.

On Thurs­day prom­i­nent ex­perts in U.S. for­eign pol­icy on Syria at­tended a panel at the Foun­da­tion for Po­lit­i­cal, Eco­nomic and So­cial Re­search (SETA) to dis­cuss the pil­lars and po­ten­tial im­pacts of this new for­eign pol­icy. All of the pan­elists agree that there is a trans­for­ma­tion in U.S. pol­icy in Syria. This pol­icy has three main pil­lars. First, de­feat­ing Daesh is still the most im­por­tant di­men­sion. But in ad­di­tion to that the ad­min­is­tra­tion aims to pre­vent the re-emer­gence of the group in the fu­ture. The sec­ond di­men­sion is one of the pa­ram­e­ters stated by Sec­re­tary Tiller­son and later Sec­re­tary Pom­peo, namely to curb the desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tions of Iran in the Mid­dle East. It is still not clear which Iran-sup­ported groups will be tar­geted by the U.S. at this point; how­ever, in Syria it is clear that the U.S. will try to stop Iran’s in­creas­ing sphere of in­flu­ence.

Third, the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion also wants to keep the Geneva process alive. This po­lit­i­cal process has been con­sid­ered key to the so­lu­tion of the Syr­ian con­flict by the U.S., and it wants to keep this alive for Syria’s fu­ture.

In ad­di­tion to these is­sues, three ad­di­tional points were put for­ward in the panel. There is an in­creas­ing em­pha­sis on both sta­bi­liza­tion and re­con­struc­tion in Syria. Although there is no clear road map or plan for the sta­bi­liza­tion process, there is more de­bate to­day about “the day af­ter the con­flict.”

In this en­deavor of sta­bi­liza­tion and re­con­struc­tion, Turkey was pointed to as one of the most im­por­tant po­ten­tial part­ners for the U.S. In par­tic­u­lar, Turkey’s Idlib ini­tia­tive was em­pha­sized as a suc­cess­ful diplo­matic ef­fort on mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent tracks in re­gards to Syria. Fi­nally, all of the pan­elists agree that we are en­ter­ing prob­a­bly the riski­est pe­riod of the Syr­ian civil war. Af­ter the rel­a­tive weak­en­ing of the non-state armed groups in Syria, the main risk is po­ten­tial con­flicts among the na­tion states around Syria. The pan­elists ar­gue that the ten­sion be­tween Iran and Is­rael, in par­tic­u­lar, may lead to some form of es­ca­la­tion if not con­tained or prop­erly han­dled.

Of course, this new U.S. pol­icy in Syria will con­tinue to be dis­cussed in the com­ing days as we see the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan. The U.S. cred­i­bil­ity prob­lem at this point does not al­low many U.S. al­lies in the re­gion to de­velop plans and projects about this strat­egy. If the U.S. be­gins to im­ple­ment its pol­icy, we can see more sub­stan­tial de­bates about it in the Mid­dle East.

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