Regarding “Caesar”, “RAND”, and the Northeast and the Kurdish-Kurdish Dialogue
The new US sanctions package, which falls under the elusive name “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act”, will enter into force mid-next month. Several events are taking place in parallel, in the northeast and northwest, and in the Syrian territories in general.
On Saturday, May 23, during a meeting with representatives of the Autonomous Administration, the US envoy to the US-led international coalition against ISIS, William Robak, made a striking statement regarding the Caesar Act and the northeast. Robak asserted “that what related to the penal law within the framework of Caesar's Act (Caesar) would exclude autonomous regions and there would be joint action and coordination within the framework of US support programs.”
Two days earlier, on Thursday, May 21, the Autonomous Administration had issued a statement (Arabic) in which it called on the international community, international institutions, and the US-led international coalition “to reconsider the impact of these sanctions over the anti-terrorist areas.” The authors of the statement are not unaware of the fact that “the sanctions... will undoubtedly affect all the Syrian regions, including the Autonomous Administration areas, which are part of Syria, since the dealings with the Syrian interior still exist, and these sanctions will affect all sectors and create negative consequences with our regions and create major problems.”
In other words, those who issued the statement, despite knowing the harmful effects of the sanctions on all Syrians, did not demand that these sanctions be lifted, or to at least not increase them through the Caesar Act, but rather they demanded that they be excluded from the sanctions.
We cannot ignore the correlation between these statements and the upcoming application of the Caesar Act, as well as the US-sponsored Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue, in addition to the issue of al-Nusra and the M4 highway. In the heart of all this lies the question of a political solution and UNSC resolution 2254 and what the US is trying to do these days.
We will not get into the economic and social details of the US sanctions in particular and the West’s in general, a great number of the aspects of which Kassioun had addressed, evidenced with figures indicating that the sanctions have turned into a gold gutter for the big corruptors within the regime and for Western brokers, and a genocidal tool against all Syrians. Here are at least three (from many) articles (only available in Arabic) previously published in Kassioun that touch on plundering through sanctions: Gasoline imported to Syria is 3 Times the Global Price: “Sanctions’ Profit” Could Reach $920 Million Annually!, Sanctions and “Bullying”… Wheat as an Example, and A Syrian Crime in Five Food Items: Syrians are Trapped by the Narrow Circle of Influence and Trade.
What we will try to focus on in this article are some of the political dimensions of the sanctions, and especially the Caesar Act, within the general framework of what the US is trying to do to Syria and through it.
First Things First… A Look at History
According to the US Department of Treasury website, the US Sanctions Program currently stands at 32 programs that include many countries including: Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Ukraine, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Central African Republic, Congo, and others. Among these programs, there are some that have started over half a century ago, as is the case with Cuba.
Most of these programs provide a stated goal, which is to change the existing regimes in the sanctioned countries. If we put aside discussion of the absolute incompatibility between US sanctions and international law, ignore the US mentality that is obsessed with controlling the fate of states, set aside colonialism at its core, and we look at the outcomes, the evident facts clearly indicate that sanctions have not changed one regime, and instead all they did is more impoverishment of the peoples of the targeted countries, more chaos and sabotage, and nothing positive.
The same applies to sanctions against Syria. The declared goal of US sanctions, which has shifted with the development of US discourse over the past nine years from regime change to changing regime behavior, is nothing more than deceptive and misleading maneuvers.
We referred in a previous article to the curious statement of James Jeffrey on the 12th of this month during a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute, and we re-demonstrate it here because of the importance of Jeffery’s insolence in revealing the true intentions of Washington: “Our military presence [in Syria], while small is important to this whole overall calculation. So we urge the Congress, the American people, the president to keep these forces on. But again, this isn’t Afghanistan. This isn’t Vietnam. This isn’t a quagmire. My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians.”
From a Syrian national interest perspective, what is more important than Jeffrey’s desire to turn Syria into a quagmire for the Russians is his desire to turn Syria into a quagmire. For example, an Afghan quagmire, that is, a place occupied by chaos, long-term destruction, and drugs in their many forms – opium in the Afghan case, and Captagon and hashish in the Syrian case. In this same context, US sanctions programs in general, and the Caesar Act in particular, should be understood.
To confirm that what Jeffrey said is not an exception, and rather the entire US-led international coalition to fight ISIS bears a misleading name and other objectives, we can, for example, go back to the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the US, which clearly stated: “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.”
RAND’s “Regions” and “Local Communities”
Although the fourth part of the “Peace Plan for Syria” series, published by the American RAND Institute, was nearly two and a half years ago (in December 2017), it is still valid as one of the basic references for understanding US policy in Syria.
The authors of the RAND report clarify that the solution must start from the idea that realizing any real change in Syria in the near term is impossible, and therefore partial changes should be made from the bottom-up that would open the way for real change later. The report explains partial changes by saying that they are based on local councils in areas outside the control of the regime, as a primary partner; the plan is based on conducting elections within local communities under international supervision, provided that there is agreement on principles and standards to which these councils adhere, and based on said elections, the councils get international legitimacy and recognition. In turn, the elected councils assess the basic needs, and later these evaluations become the basis for the distribution of allocated funds for reconstruction.
In other words, the rule for the US is the exception: “local communities” that obtain “legitimacy and international recognition.” Accordingly, the alleged exception to the northeast from the sanctions is a US commitment to the general rule aimed at keeping Syria a state of de facto division and pushing – where it can – towards make it deeper and transformed into a new detonator.
The indications of the US “rule” are not confined to what we mentioned here; they extend much further. There is no harm in quickly recalling the Zionist AIPAC-funded Washington Institute report, which monitored how Syria dealt with the Coronavirus, and titled “Syria’s Three Governments Confront the Coronavirus.” The “three governments” according to the report are the Salvation Government of al-Nusra (which is a government of technocrats according to the report), the Autonomous Administration government (in the northeast), and the regime’s government.
There is also no harm, and perhaps it is necessary, to always recall Tillerson’s and Pompeo’s non-papers of January and September 2018, respectively, both of which emphasize “clearer grants of authority to regional governance units.”
How is the “Exception” Actuated?
Within the aforementioned Autonomous Administration’s statement, and more importantly, based on the Syrian economic and social realities, the sanctions have affected and will affect ordinary Syrians, and no region will be excluded as long as the economic interdependence among the country’s regions exists, and as long as the Syrian pound is the currency that 90% of Syrians, i.e. the plundered ones, use it as a means of payment for their basic needs.
Joel Rayburn, the US special envoy to Syria, who is also a member of the “Trump” school of arrogance and insolence, had bragged in Geneva during the first round of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, that he was following on his mobile an application that monitored the exchange rate of the Syrian pound, and expressed his happiness at its collapse.
Additionally, some members of the Syrian Negotiations Commission, members of the Syrian Coalition, and others with them, were not ashamed that they recently organized and attended a virtual workshop on the Caesar Act in which the primary speaker was Rayburn himself, while they were applauding and cheering for him and his country’s sanctions imposed on the Syrian people.
Going back to the issue of currency and economic interdependence, the proposed US “solution”, which we have begun to hear the first indications of which, is to complete the isolation of the northeast and northwest from Syria under the pretext of “humanitarian” and “livelihood” conditions. How would that work? Quite simply, since the “regime” areas are drowning, an escape must be provided to the other areas. In the northwest, let the Turkish lira be the trading currency instead of the Syrian pound. The so-called “Aleppo City Revolutionary Council”, which is a typical example of “RAND’s local councils”, demanded, on the fifth of this month, the use of the Turkish lira instead of the Syrian pound for transactions in the “liberated areas”. In the northeast, we will not be surprised if there are calls for the Iraqi dinar to be used as a substitute for the Syrian pound, to avoid “drowning”.
A Kurdish-Kurdish Dialogue
Within this vision, one cannot deal without suspicion with the US-sponsored dialogue in the northeast between “SDC” (Syrian Democratic Council) and the “KNC” (Kurdish National Council). Let us consider, for example, the statement by Nicholas Heras, an American researcher and analyst on Middle East affairs, which he made during a meeting on the 22nd of this month to Kurdistan 24. Heras says: “The US is seeking to stabilize the governance structure of northeast Syria”. He adds, “the counter-ISIS campaign requires a stable and inclusive governance structure in northeast Syria and that is impossible without a unified Kurdish political position on the future of Syria.”
Although dialogue between any two Syrian parties is necessarily required, nevertheless, US sponsorship on the one hand, and presenting the dialogue as an internal Kurdish dialogue in isolation from the rest of the Syrians on the other hand, would open the door for clear US objectives from this dialogue – that is, to perpetuate the isolation of the northeast from the rest of Syria on a “national” basis. This would not bring Syrians closer to each other, but rather perpetuate their divisions along national, sectarian, and tribal lines, and so on. All of this does not mean having a position rejecting this dialogue, but it does mean that the patriotic Syrians from the neighboring parties involved in the dialogue must have a great deal of wisdom and foresight in order to turn their dialogue into a portion of a general Syrian dialogue, and on the basis of UNSC Resolution 2254, to reach a political solution and to get Syria out of its crisis.
Al-Nusra and the M4 Highway
As the Caesar Act comes into effect, its ability to serve the US’ subversive objectives will not be at its best if the implementation of the Sochi agreement is completed and the M4 highway is opened, because opening this road would raise the degree of internal immunity, albeit a little, in the economic sense, by preparing the ground for expanding internal transactions, which can help provide the minimum requirements for survival, and in the forefront of that comes agricultural production trade, especially grain.
As the recent developments with regards to the northwest, especially the relationship between al-Nusra and Turkey has entered a new phase, and it has become evident that the Sochi Agreement is moving towards full implementation, the US has become “compelled” to increase its investment in the ISIS and the northeast dossiers, including opening the door to the possibilities of partition, not because these possibilities are achievable – they are not – but to ignite new frictions and conflicts on the borders between Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. The primary fuel of these frictions and conflicts is the Kurds themselves, and the aim is to delay reaching the solution, thus extending the life of the “quagmire”.
The real baseline for the amount of US viciousness in sabotage attempts is precisely the increase of the possibilities of implementing UNSC Resolution 2254 in a full and comprehensive manner, and in the near future. During the stoppage time, Washington is trying to change the result through “Caesar”, al-Nusra, ISIS, and other tools, but mainly through the northeast issue that appears to be seen as the last significant tool. The main feature of Washington’s work is to maintain the status quo, which is no longer possible without new major eruptions.