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19 May 2024, Edition - 3232, Sunday

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Why it is easy to believe that US might allow Assad to stay in power

Covai Post Network


Last summer I was finally convinced that the U.S. somehow prefers Syrian President Bashar Assad over the Syrian opposition after having a meeting with a Washington-based senior Middle East analyst who worked with previous U.S. administrations. It was not surprising of course, given the rise of DAESH in Syria and Iraq, sporadic DAESH-linked terror attacks in Europe and DAESH-inspired lone wolf attacks in the United States. Al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, al-Nusra Front, was and still is another concern. In the midst of this, Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, was looking like a saner and more reliable actor, considering his compliance with the Russian-brokered past chemical weapons agreement.

One thing everyone fails to understand about this administration is that the U.S. does not envision a regional order anymore. It only wants to stay safe, work with the dictators or any other kind of terrible regime in the region if they do not create any immediate danger to U.S. interests and safety and leave the rest in the hands of regional powers such as Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. U.S. President Barack Obama, being cautious, never liked the idea of supporting an opposition army, and he always bet on a political solution with the opposition enough intact to broker a deal between the parties.

The U.S. had its own reasoning for this based on past experiences such as Libya and Iraq, suggesting if you let a state fail, the result would be more extremism, a resulting power vacuum and chaos. This is probably true, but as previous reports on American media have shown, in the Syrian case, the U.S. never gave a proper chance to top Syrian army officers or bureaucrats who defected to the opposition and are capable of preserving the existing state institutions. It also has never had any desire to hit the regime where it hurts so it could compromise and facilitate Assad’s ouster.

The more the U.S. appeased Iran and Russia in the region, the weaker the Syrian opposition became. Washington also silently watched while Iran ramped up its military and financial support with its poster generals and Russia invaded the country and deployed an anti-aircraft defense system that covers the Turkish and Israeli airspaces. It treated Russia as a partner even though President Vladimir Putin tried to destroy the regional order in the name of protecting the status quo at the expense of U.S. allies.

“[U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry’s always having problems with U.S. partners in the region, like Turkey. He always calls on us to find a way out” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, confirming how the U.S. treats its partners.

This is why this week when pan-Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Kerry demanded the opposition accept the Russian conditions, including a national unity government instead of a transitional governing body and giving Assad a right to run in the next elections, everyone quickly believed it was the last nail in the coffin.

Next, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Michael Ratney quickly released a statement and dismissed the reports. He said that the U.S. government supports the opposition delegation that was determined in Riyadh, giving its blessings for an interim or transitional body instead of a national unity government and reiterated the official U.S. stance that, in the long run, Assad must leave power.

However, one thing was clear, as multiple reports confirmed that Kerry threatened the Syrian opposition with cutting aid if they refuse to participate in the Geneva talks. Later, Kerry said on the record that the U.S. is still backing the Syrian opposition with every means and no one should be concerned.

I think what the U.S. wants will happen and all the regional players, including U.S. allies, will decide their future on their own. One of them, Saudi Arabia, already decided to play along with this strategy and did not let the U.S. know that it was carrying out a military intervention in Yemen, and later setting up a new coalition against DAESH. There was one problem, however, as Washington did not like these moves. Sometimes you can’t have it all, can you?

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