Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2015-11-01 15:14:24 -
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When it comes to Syria, both the USA and its European allies need to take a step back and develop a much more realistic and practical plan for dealing with the Assad regime. Their aspirational strategy to force Bashar al-Assad out of power was devised during the heady days of the Arab Spring when the Free Syrian Army was making significant headway in its fight against Syrian government forces. President Obama and other European political leaders repeatedly claimed that Assad’s days were numbered and insisted he must go.
But the war has long since become a stalemate, which has in turn allowed Daesh and al-Qaeda-aligned terrorists to push Assad’s moderate opponents out of the territories they had taken from the government. The diplomatic, economic and financial sanctions implemented by the US and its  allies have not only failed to force Assad from power, they have actually made life more difficult for all Syrians, including Assad’s opponents. The truth about the sanctions is they haven’t hurt Syrian officials – but they have hurt average Syrian citizens.
Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle have recently begun to question the American and EU strategy of forcing Assad out even though they have no idea who or what would replace him. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine recently said: “I don’t think regime change should be an official policy of the United States. Our batting record is very poor.” Senator Joe Manchin also asked,:“Who are you going to replace him with? What are you going to do? Leave a void? That hasn’t worked with Saddam Hussein or with Muammar Gaddafi.”
The other top American priority was training and equipping moderate anti-Assad forces so that they could thwart future territorial advances by both the government and terrorists from Daesh or al-Qaeda. That programme was an absolute failure as it only resulted in training a handful of fighters who subsequently gave their American weaponry to al-Qaeda in return for safe passage.
I am not suggesting that America and its European allies should abandon the idea of forcing Assad from power. What I am suggesting is that they need to adjust their priorities and be smarter in how they go about realising their objectives.
Let’s face facts. Economic and financial sanctions as well as training and equipping opposition fighters haven’t worked over the last four years. America and its allies talk a lot about what a horrible leader Assad is, but they are also unwilling to back up their tough talk by putting boots on the ground in Syria.
On the other hand, both Russia and Iran not only provide economic support as well as training and equipment for the Assad regime’s military forces, but they also put their money where their mouth is by sending their own soldiers, as well as those of their allies like Hezbollah, to fight alongside the Syrian government’s forces. But Russia and Iran are not doing this because they like Assad: Russia wants to maintain its only naval base on the Mediterranean, and Iran wants to maintain its crescent of influence from Iraq through Syria to Lebanon.
By insisting that Assad must go, America and its allies have left themselves with no leverage to negotiate any kind of a peace deal with the Assad regime. So if they really want to strike a deal to end the Syrian civil war, they are going to have to stop demonising Russia’s involvement and insisting that Assad must go, while also expressing a willingness to accept a negotiated political settlement that includes a transitional role for the Syrian leader. They are also going to have to invite Iran to take part in any peace negotiations.
Make no mistake: Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf state monarchies will not be pleased with any Syrian political settlement that also includes a continuing role for Bashar al-Assad. But since they are also unwilling to send their own armed troops into Syria to fight the combined Russian, Iranian, Assad regime and Hezbollah forces, what little influence they do have is limited to the rebels they support financially. They need to wise up and use their financial muscle to support a political transition that includes Assad.
All of the major stakeholders in Syria have one concern in common: Daesh and al-Qaeda, whose defeat should be the number one priority for all concerned. Iran wants to exterminate them to protect Shiite Muslims around the globe, and Russia wants to crush them because it doesn’t want their Wahabist views to spread throughout its growing Muslim population. America, Europe, Turkey and the Gulf states want to defeat them because of the terrorist threat they pose. The solution to the Syrian crisis is to focus on what we have in common instead of our differences.
Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.
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