Biden’s dithering on Syria weakens US position in Middle East

The US president can do more than talk to persuade Putin to allow humanitarian aid to Syria.

The new year began with news of Iranian-backed forces bombarding US positions in Syria and Iraq. While some interpret these as Tehran’s response to the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani in early 2020, the development was expected: Iran is targeting the American presence in Iraq and Syria because it wants to secure its access corridor to the Mediterranean and Lebanon.

Tehran has no intention of leaving the Americans behind the line. Fortunately for them, Washington does not yet appear to have a policy on its presence in Syria, despite President Joe Biden’s promise to reaffirm American leadership in resolving the crisis in Syria.

The increase in Iranian attacks on American sites and American allies, and the breakdown of nuclear talks, call for difficult choices that the Biden administration is reluctant to make.

On the one hand, the United States can leave, as it did in Afghanistan and probably wants to do in Iraq. In this scenario, they leave energy resources in the hands of the Assad regime as well as their so-called partner, the YPG/PKK – which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Turkey. – whose leaders are increasingly wavering for Moscow. Despite Turkiye’s warnings of such a development, Washington has failed to respond to the increasingly open talks between the YPG, the Russians and Assad.

On the other hand, the Biden administration has the tools to strengthen Washington’s position against its rivals.

The base of Al Tanf, where the American special forces join forces with the Syrian rebels, is for example an opportunity to put pressure on the Iranian positions. It is no coincidence that Iran and Assad are worried about this base because it could be a problem to regain control of areas in eastern Syria. According to reports, Assad has already ordered the intelligence chief to prepare to regain control of the territory.

Biden is also brandishing the powerful Caesar Act, designed to put pressure on the Assad regime. It is time for Washington to seriously use this tool.

Unfortunately, Biden persists in his wavering stance on the Syrian conflict, which has prompted joint statements from senior US officials calling on the president not to allow Assad’s legitimacy through tacit diplomacy.

The recent energy project linked to Lebanon and linked to the Assad regime has been approved by the United States. As Arab states begin to renew relations with the Assad regime, the approval of such a project has drawn strong criticism in the West, especially since the Caesar law imposes sanctions against any company or country. who helps Assad. To date, the Biden administration has never invoked it.

Politicization of aid

The United States can also project its influence through instruments of soft power, such as humanitarian assistance, and thus take a stand in the hearts and minds of the local population. However, in such an attempt, Biden has taken an insufficient step in the face of Russian efforts.

In July last year, Biden managed to convince his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that Russia must abandon its position of “defending Syrian sovereignty” and accept that a humanitarian aid corridor to the rebel territories of the northwest of Syria be maintained.

The question of humanitarian aid in Syria is a serious problem in the Security Council. The aid delivery mechanism is vital for millions of Syrians who have lost their homes and jobs to war. The mandate is voted on every year, and Russia has refused to extend a compromise reached a year earlier, making the humanitarian operation an instrument of geopolitics. The Kremlin wants all aid to pass through checkpoints controlled by the Assad regime, and therefore by the Russian military administration.

But what does the humanitarian situation in Syria have to do with the rest? Many. In fact, in July 2021, the United States and Russia mentioned Syria amid discussions of broader issues including Afghanistan and cyberattacks on US targets. Syria continues to be part of the talks between Washington and Moscow in the context of the Ukraine crisis.

Russia continues to pressure the United States to reduce its presence in areas where it wants to assert its interests. Humanitarian aid has become a tool in this regard and the United States does not have many options to counter the Kremlin. Talks over aid supplies quickly turned into a debate about what role the United States could play in Syria and whether to strengthen its presence in the region.

Biden is running out of time. Attacks on US interests in Syria will intensify, and there is a logic to that. Iran, for example, sees Washington as a force that wants to get away and does not want to engage. The coalition against Daesh, which often serves as an argument for Washington to continue operations on the Syrian-Iraqi border, will not last much longer. In the context of a vast conflict of interests, the United States cannot afford the luxury of abandoning its position in Syria.

It is no coincidence that Syria is considered a strategic asset. For Russia, the country is a platform of influence in the Middle East and the Mediterranean; for Iran, it is an opportunity to harden the invasion that has lasted for years through Iraq to Lebanon.

If the United States is to meet the challenges posed by its adversaries, it must view Syria as an opportunity, not a burden borne in a battle against a radical group. Biden can do more than talk to persuade Putin to allow humanitarian aid to Syria.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views and editorial policies of TRT World.

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Source: World TRT

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