In the search to find exactly what American policy, interests and objectives are in Syria, one can refer to the United States Institute of Peace (“USIP”), which was established by Congress in 1984. According to Mona Yacoubian, a USIP Senior Advisor on Syria, the Middle East and North Africa, the USIP seeks “to prevent and resolve violent conflicts abroad, in accordance with US national interests and values”.
On September 27th, 2018, Ms. Yacoubian testified at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa hearings on “US policy Toward Syria: Part I”. Given her role, one can reasonably assume that Ms. Yacoubian’s testimony at Congress reflects, if not represents, and summarizes the Trump administration’s policy towards Syria. In the first paragraph of her testimony, Ms. Yacoubian says “Implications of Assad’s Survival. The regime will stop at nothing to ensure its survival, […] Assad’s survival could also upend the regional order, embolden Iran and its allies and posing new threats to Israel.” This one short paragraph by a senior American Advisor encompasses several critical issues which constitute a general framework of Washington’s Syria policy.
First, the reference to “Assad regime” is pejorative and denies the legitimacy of both, Syria's political system – which is based on Syria’s 2012 Constitution – and the re-election of President Assad in 2014. Ms. Yacoubian might object, claiming that the elections were rigged. I would tell her to “see the log in her eye before she sees the speck in my eye”; I would remind Ms. Yacoubian of the rigged Senate election of Lyndon Johnson in Texas in 1948, the rigged presidential election of John Kennedy in Chicago in 1960 by the Daley Machine and the rigged presidential election of George W. Bush in Florida in 2000.
Second, Ms. Yacoubian says; “The regime will stop at nothing to ensure its survival…” This fickle statement was pedaled by multiple opponents of the Syrian ‘regime’. President Assad had to use all the available means at his disposal, in addition to outside help, to ensure not only his survival and the survival of the Syrian political system, but more importantly and ultimately the survival of Syria as a sovereign state. I would remind Ms. Yacoubian that President Abraham Lincoln used means at his disposal to ensure the survival of the Union during the American Civil War. Lincoln’s success in preserving the Union, in which roughly 620000 Americans lost their lives and taken as a percentage of today’s population, the number would be 6 millions American lives, made him an American legend. By comparison, Assad fought hordes of Islamists, terrorists, warlords, criminals who had come from all over the world, with the financial and military help of a host of foreign countries (US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar amongst others) for the single purpose of destroying Syria. Had they succeeded, Syria would have disintegrated into hundreds of cantons, headed by a multitude of terrorists, Islamists, Ameers, mafias, warlords in every neighborhood fighting each other indefinitely for supremacy. Assad, along with the Syrian people and institutions, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, should be thanked for the survival of a Sovereign Syria.
Third, she says “Assad’s survival could also upend the regional order, emboldening Iran and its allies and posing new threats to Israel”. Addressing each component of her statement separately:
“Upend the regional order”: Assad has been in power since 2000 and during his eleven-year rule prior to the uprising, the regional order was not upended. It was rather stable, particularly the Syrian-Israeli relations.
“Emboldening Iran”: Syrian-Iranian warm and friendly relations started with the fall of the Shah and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. During the uprising, Syria needed Iranian help which Iran provided. Once the uprising in Syria is over, relations between the two countries will return to normal, like relations between any sovereign allies.
Assad’s survival, she notes, “posing new threats to Israel”: I would just note that during many Syrian-Israeli Track II Diplomacy meetings in the 1990’s and the first decade of the present century, in which I participated, I often heard Israelis repeat the saying “If it is not broke don’t fix it”. The reference was to the Syrian-Israeli relations in which no bullets were fired across the disengagement line in decades.
Ms. Yacoubian moves on to note that “Meanwhile, the Assad regime vows it will reassert control over Idlib province…[which] harbors a significant al-Qaeda presence…” She further notes that “The regime could seek to retake critical hydrocarbon facilities currently under the control of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.” A shocking and presumptuous statement, implying foreign governments shall not uphold their sovereignty if it interferes with American interests. President Assad, took the Presidential oath to defend and protect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Therefore, it is his constitutional duty to reassert control over Idlib, a Syrian province which “harbors a significant al-Qaeda presence”, and retake Syrian critical hydrocarbon facilities. I will just remind the Senior Advisor, once again, to remember the legacy of President Lincoln.
Finally, Ms. Yacoubian asserts that “The Assad regime repeatedly has transgressed international norms and laws governing armed conflict.” It is the height of irony for Ms. Yacoubian to consider Assad’s attempts to reclaim occupied Syrian territory a violation of international legal norms. Th US has spearheaded an uninvited military occupation in Syria alongside Turkey and particularly Israel, which has occupied and annexed the Syrian Gholan plateau in violation of numerous United Nations resolutions and, as Ms. Yacoubian notes, “has undertaken 200 military attacks against Iranian targets in Syria over the past two years”.
Overall, an assessment of American policy, interests and objectives in Syria exposes deep flaws and inconsistencies and underlies a much likely “private agenda”; one where American-Israeli geo-political regional interests are at the center.