US policy toward Syria has always been clear

US policy toward Syria has always been clear
4 min read
22 Nov, 2014
The US has disappointed many with its Syria policy over the last four years. No one should expect more in the latest round of Islamic State-driven US diplomacy.
US policy toward Syria has frustrated many [Getty]

The US policy toward Syria over the last few years has seemed not only confused but also contradictory. While it once considered the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power a necessity, it now speaks of a role for the Syrian leader in a political process.

Meanwhile, Washington has assembled a multi-national coalition to defeat the Islamic State group (formerly known as ISIS). US officials may still speak of the struggle against Assad, but the war against the IS is now the priority.

The question is whether US President Barack Obama has

     US statements merely reflect the Machiavellian game of power politics the US is playing in the region

modified his policy toward the Syrian regime and if he wants to bring it down, or if this option is still far from American thinking. Opposition groups have been consumed by this issue since the start of the revolution in 2011. They have been waiting long, hoping that the US will prioritize ousting the regime over anything else.

And yet, despite all talk about conflicting messages from the US - whether attributed to Obama, John Kerry, to his secretary of state, or remarks by former American officials, one has to say that the media has contributed greatly toward this confusion.

Since day one, US policy toward Syria has been clear. The US administration announced early that Syria was not a US concern. Back in 2010, Washington had moved toward a new global strategy, giving precedence to Asia and the Pacific region and identifying China as the main threat to US interests.

For this reason, Washington's position on events in Syria after 15 March 2011 was weak compared to its stand on Tunisia and Egypt. Then Washington sold out Syria to Russia within the framework of their mutual dialogue and compromises.

A balancing game

The US has never really supported the opposition. Washington even discouraged its allies who wanted a more active policy to bring down the Syrian regime, in particular Turkey, Qatar and France. In any case, US policy openly rules out a military solution and calls for a political solution based on negotiations. While this solution rules out the continued rule of Assad, the principles of the Geneva I Conference also calls for a transitional period.

When Barack Obama links the war on the IS group to Assad stepping down, he is not implying that military action will be deployed to this end, either directly or by supporting the armed opposition. Talk about training the opposition has become a joke in Syria, a country that has been mired in devastating warfare for two years now.

Rather, Obama means that efforts toward a political solution should perhaps accompany the war on the IS, to arrange for the participation of the opposition and the government, from which Assad should eventually step down.

This war is not a real war in the truest sense of the word; it is rather a political maneuvre aimed at imposing the agendas of regional powers, especially Iran with which the Obama administration wants better alignment. But any coorporation will also necessitate Tehran curbing its expansionist ambitions in the region.

     Talk about training the opposition has become a joke in Syria

This is happening in Iraq, where the United States is now imposing what it wanted to impose in 2011, before it decided to pull out its forces from this country. For instance, Washington will press for a law that protects its soldiers from being held to account for anything they do in Iraq to secure the presence of the soon to be 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers.

These conditions are perhaps what Obama refers to when he speaks about the necessity of Assad stepping down. An agreement with Iran is being negotiated to remove Assad from power and arrange a transition on the basis of Geneva I Conference, with Russian participation.

These American statements have raised the expectations of some and confused others. In fact, they merely reflect the Machiavellian game of power politics the US is playing in the region, trying to balance its many priorities and interests.

Expectations of what Washington can do and what it is willing to do should therefore be realistic.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.