Washington chooses Assad

Washington chooses Assad
4 min read
18 Mar, 2015
Comment: The United States has once again decided that "stability" is preferable to peace or justice, writes Lamis Andoni.
Making a point: Assad is likely to stay in power for some time yet [Anadolu]

The remarks of US Secretary of State John Kerry, suggesting negotiations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were a necessity, were not surprising.

Washington has chosen, in principle, "stability", especially after the political and military failures of the Syrian opposition factions - which had previously presented themselves as an alternative to Assad which could preserve US interests.

From the beginning of the Syrian uprising, the US had certain fundamental principles of policy.

First of all, Washington would not allow the emergence of a truly free regime and a pluralistic secular state that would guarantee even a bare minimum of social justice in Syria.

Secondly, Washington sought to have the biggest say in deciding what form change could take in Syria - in a way that would not affect US or Israeli interests.

True, Washington saw a revolution as an opportunity to reshape Syria, not to meet the demands of the Syrian people, but to establish a regime that renounced resistance, and severed ties between the Syrian state and Iran and armed groups from Hamas and Islamic Jihad to Hizballah.

However, Washington failed to put together a "moderate" alternative that could guarantee Syria would not become a staging ground for future attacks on Israel.

The United States, as always, played a double game by facilitating the entry of armed Islamist groups and indirectly supporting them through US allies in the region.

The purpose was to create a reality where the uprising mutated into a terrorist phenomenon that would justify US military intervention, and the creation of factions dubbed "moderate", all under the banner of fighting terrorism.

     For Russia and the Syrian regime, the fight against terrorism meant a way to criminalise the revolutionaries

US policy on Syria became clearer during the Geneva I talks in 2012.

The United States called for Assad to step down, while pushing for terrorism in Syria to be fought - in tacit agreement with the government there.

The US also pushed for the formation of "moderate" political and military factions, in what resembled the Sahawat, or Tribal Awakening groups in Iraq - though in that case, the move was meant to eliminate resistance, not to create alternatives.

For Russia and the Syrian regime, the fight against terrorism meant a way to criminalise the revolutionaries and prop up the legitimacy of the Assad regime, especially among Syria's Arab neighbours, taking advantage of fears felt both by peoples and regimes towards extremist organisations.

For Washington, it meant an alternative to the regime - one shorn of independence, one that would endorse and implement Washington's policies in the region.

Here, it is important to recall that the Syrian regime was never far from Washington's policies on several major events, especially but not exclusively in the years before the revolution.

Damascus was, for example, complicit in the so-called "War on Terror", torturing suspects - most famously Khaled Arar - who was renditioned secretly by Canada to Damascus to be "interrogated" in Syria's dungeons.

     John Kerry himself... played a key role in reaching accords with Bashar al-Assad

The regime since 2005 had started implementing a policy of economic liberalisation, one of Washington's key demands.

This was followed by price rises and worsening conditions for farmers, arguably one of the reasons that led to the uprising in the provinces and the Damascus countryside. Above all, the economic manipulation of the poorest was a sign the regime was seeking to appease the United States.

In those years, John Kerry himself, a US senator at the time, played a key role in reaching accords with Bashar al-Assad - at least until the revolution began, which Washington saw as an opportunity to create an alternative leadership, which could then disengage from Iran.

Now, Kerry has returned to his old role, dealing a blow to opposition parties that had abandoned their role in representing the aspirations of the Syrian people for the sake of personal influence or power.

These parties had forgotten that Washington seeks lackeys, not allies, and furthers only "interests", not principles.

The Hazzm movement, for example, is a case in point. It was left to be eliminated by the Nusra Front, as Washington closes in on a deal with Iran.

The change in US policy will be subject to a successful deal with Iran. In the end, there is no consistent US policy, and this is a lesson that must be learned - by both regimes and oppositions that forget their peoples and supplicate themselves to Washington.

Lamis Andoni is the editor in chief of al-Araby al-Jadeed English.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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