As many know, I incessantly met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad between 2004 and 2009 first to write down a biography on him after which as one thing of an unofficial liaison between the United States and Syria at a time when bilateral relations had been strained. I met numerous high-level Syrian officers, and I established a relationship with the Syrian president.
After a brutal civil battle, which nonetheless simmers in a couple of components of the nation, a few of these similar folks have been de facto or de jure labeled within the West as battle criminals — at first amongst them is Assad. There is an in depth net of worldwide sanctions, most notably the Caesar Act handed by the US Congress, and UN resolutions arrayed towards the Syrian authorities. How may the Biden administration assent to open a dialogue with a authorities so universally remoted, if not loathed, within the West?
This is a really exhausting query to reply. Believe me, I get it. I, myself, have a tough time advocating for any form of dialogue with those that have a lot blood on their arms; nevertheless, this has been a lethal and damaging civil battle the place there are various folks in Syria on all sides with blood on their arms.
But I are likely to gravitate towards a extra realist international coverage on this occasion. Not that moralist and realist international insurance policies are mutually unique. It’s all the time extra palatable politically and psychologically if a selected international coverage is accompanied by an ethical crucial. But they’re usually separated by necessity and circumstance, which might be higher digested if one is satisfied there’s a bigger good at stake. In my opinion, a rigorously negotiated and constructed US-Syrian dialogue might be mutually helpful. As an American citizen, I believe to myself: How can the United States profit from this? What do the Syrians have to supply?
The United States doesn’t want Syria practically as a lot because the reverse. The dilapidated and dying Syrian financial system desperately wants humanitarian and reconstruction help in addition to long-term international funding to start the arduous process of making an attempt to rebuild the nation. Bottom line: Syria wants sanctions aid, and due to the stiff Treasury Department penalties imposed on any entities who violate the Caesar Act, the US is in a singular place to make it occur.
For the United States, stability is vital in Syria — not solely due to the immense struggling that has unfolded because the begin of Syria’s battle and the comprehensible revulsion, and sense of heartbreak, that Americans really feel when confronted with it, but additionally as a result of Syria borders US allies (Israel, Jordan, and Turkey) in addition to nations who’re seemingly at a tipping level towards state failure (Lebanon and Iraq). Any extra destabilizing spillover from Syria may very well be the final straw.
In addition, as one in all Syria’s principal allies within the civil battle together with Russia, Iran’s footprint within the nation is in depth — together with via its dutiful shopper, Hezbollah. Almost because the starting of the battle, Hezbollah’s enhanced presence within the nation alone has been, and continues to be, seen as a relentless menace to Israel; it’s, due to this fact, the kindling that would probably gentle the hearth to a regional battle. Reducing the Iranian presence is within the curiosity of the US and its allies.
So, there may be the potential for some form of compromise that may very well be a win-win for each nations. While it might be true that the US is unlikely to raise its sanctions wholesale, simply because it’s unlikely Syria would expel Iran from its nation, one thing like a limitation on Hezbollah’s presence in alternate for phased sanctions discount on issues like reconstruction provides sounds broadly possible and would not less than make marginal enhancements to a horrible scenario.
The Biden administration has but to set its Syria coverage, one thing that would appear prone to occur within the coming months because it continues to judge the scenario and because the still-new administration’s international insurance policies on a bunch of world points start to coalesce.
There are these within the administration who’re dedicated to maintaining the strain on Assad till he falls from energy — they actually don’t need to reward him with sanctions aid for being, of their eyes, a battle legal. And there are those that imagine on this more-realist strategy, that there are some doable quid professional quos, if for no different cause than to ship extra humanitarian help to a long-suffering inhabitants.
I can’t emphasize this sufficient: The Biden administration’s Syria coverage may go in a single course or the opposite, and as soon as it’s established, barring some disaster occasion, will probably be immensely troublesome to alter it once more for not less than the following 4 years. Small gestures now by Syria may have a disproportionate salutary impact in the long run.
What can occur, what gesture can Syria make, to get a dialogue began?
It is broadly believed in Western authorities and media circles that the Syrian authorities has held American journalist Austin Tice, who went lacking in Syria in August 2012.
It is my view that any progress on US-Syrian relations will NOT transfer ahead with out Syrian acknowledgment of and cooperation in offering dependable info on Austin Tice. Once that is performed, the door is ajar for extra dialogue, and the Biden administration’s Syria coverage may very properly veer on this course, even when the acknowledged US purpose could stay for Assad to go away energy and for a transitional authorities to take cost.
President Assad: NOW is the time to do what you possibly can to satisfy the Biden administration in any center floor that may be discovered, together with by disclosing any doable info on Austin Tice’s whereabouts. It’s the appropriate factor to do, and now’s the appropriate second.