As many know, I steadily met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad between 2004 and 2009 first to jot down a biography on him after which as one thing of an unofficial liaison between the US and Syria at a time when bilateral relations had been strained. I met a lot of high-level Syrian officers, and I established a relationship with the Syrian president.
After a brutal civil conflict, which nonetheless simmers in a couple of elements of the nation, a few of these identical folks have been de facto or de jure labeled within the West as conflict criminals — before everything amongst them is Assad. There’s an intensive 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 can be a very laborious query to reply. Imagine me, I get it. I, myself, have a tough time advocating for any type of dialogue with those that have a lot blood on their palms; nevertheless, this has been a lethal and damaging civil conflict the place there are a lot of folks in Syria on all sides with blood on their palms.
However I are likely to gravitate towards a extra realist overseas coverage on this occasion. Not that moralist and realist overseas insurance policies are mutually unique. It is all the time extra palatable politically and psychologically if a selected overseas coverage is accompanied by an ethical crucial. However they’re typically separated by necessity and circumstance, which may be higher digested if one is satisfied there’s a bigger good at stake. In my view, a fastidiously negotiated and constructed US-Syrian dialogue may be mutually helpful. As an American citizen, I feel to myself: How can the US profit from this? What do the Syrians have to supply?
America doesn’t want Syria almost as a lot because the reverse. The dilapidated and dying Syrian financial system desperately wants humanitarian and reconstruction assist in addition to long-term overseas funding to start the arduous job of making an attempt to rebuild the nation. Backside line: Syria wants sanctions aid, and due to the stiff Treasury Division penalties imposed on any entities who violate the Caesar Act, the US is in a singular place to make it occur.
For the US, stability is vital in Syria — not solely due to the immense struggling that has unfolded because the begin of Syria’s conflict and the comprehensible revulsion, and sense of heartbreak, that Individuals 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.
As well as, as certainly one of Syria’s essential allies within the civil conflict together with Russia, Iran’s footprint within the nation is in depth — together with by way of its dutiful shopper, Hezbollah. Nearly because the starting of the battle, Hezbollah’s enhanced presence within the nation alone has been, and continues to be, seen as a continuing risk to Israel; it’s, due to this fact, the kindling that would doubtlessly mild the fireplace to a regional conflict. Lowering the Iranian presence is within the curiosity of the US and its allies.
So, there’s the potential for some form of compromise that may very well be a win-win for each nations. Whereas it could 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 change for phased sanctions discount on issues like reconstruction provides sounds broadly possible and would no less than make marginal enhancements to a horrible state of affairs.
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 state of affairs and because the still-new administration’s overseas insurance policies on a number of worldwide 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 definitely don’t need to reward him with sanctions aid for being, of their eyes, a conflict prison. And there are those that imagine on this more-realist method, that there are some doable quid professional quos, if for no different purpose 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 path or the opposite, and as soon as it’s established, barring some disaster occasion, it will likely be immensely tough to alter it once more for no 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’s extensively 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’s my view that any progress on US-Syrian relations will NOT transfer ahead with out Syrian acknowledgment of and cooperation in offering dependable data on Austin Tice. As soon as that is carried out, the door is ajar for extra dialogue, and the Biden administration’s Syria coverage may very effectively veer on this path, even when the acknowledged US purpose could stay for Assad to depart energy and for a transitional authorities to take cost.
President Assad: NOW is the time to do what you possibly can to fulfill the Biden administration in any center floor that may be discovered, together with by disclosing any doable data on Austin Tice’s whereabouts. It is the proper factor to do, and now’s the proper second.