What Will the “New” US Policy in Syria Look Like?
Over the last month, since Biden took office, we have seen the US rescind several decisions by the Trump administration, possibly the most by any new administration with regards to its predecessor.
In fact, Biden is reported to have broken the record for the most executive orders issued on the first day and first week by any US president, a good portion of them either revoking or reversing something that Trump and the Trump administration had passed. Nevertheless, a lot remains unclear about the Biden administration with regards to foreign policy, particularly our region and Syria.
A quick overview of the executive orders that Biden signed reveals that there are at least two clear direct objectives (at least from a promotional and media perspectives): First, give the impression that there are changes and that this administration is different from the one before it; and second, this administration takes the COVID-19 crisis seriously and will work to address it.
These are the two most clear messages that are being presented to Americans first and foremost, though they are also directed at the international audience.
In addition to the above, the Biden administration has taken also a few steps at the international level, including:
- Halting the US withdrawal from the WHO
- Rejoining the UN Human Rights Council
- Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement
- Overturning Trump’s block on the appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as head of WTO
- Stressing full commitment to the NATO
- Considering repealing sanction on ICC officials
- Considering returning to the JCPOA (i.e., the Iran nuclear deal)
Taking into consideration these actions and statements by Biden and other officials in the new administration, it seems that the most recurring message is that the new US administration wants to take a more cooperative approach than its predecessor and try to reverse the isolationist approach that the Trump administration had taken, which had antagonized even the closest of the US’s historical allies in the West.
Will Biden’s Policies Be the Opposite of Trump’s?
In reality, what the Biden administration is trying to do is not the opposite of what the Trump administration was doing.
In the end, Washington’s policies during Trump’s presidency, whether domestic or foreign, are not “Trump’s policies”, but the policy of the US as a whole. More specifically, it is the policy resulting from the forces of the different currents in power in the US.
Here we do not mean “the conflict between the democrats and the republicans”, as this form of conflict is the free theatrical performance that has been going on for decades to entertain and distract the internal and external audiences. Rather, the actual struggle among the centers of power that differ in their strategic view of what should be done towards the various issues facing the US, atop of which is the global role of the dollar and how to deal with major issues such as the rise of China and Russia.
We say this because there are policies that are difficult to explain if we do not keep this in the back of our minds. For example, to understand US policies towards Syria, we cannot ignore James Jeffrey’s statements in which he clearly said that Trump had been manipulated regarding the number of troops, and that his decision to withdraw from Syria had been circumvented.
In other words, the supporters of the current to which Biden belongs were not completely out of power during Trump’s presidency. To the contrary, they were always present, and in the various executive positions of the very large and complex state apparatus. From their multiple positions, they were resisting the direction that Trump was trying to impose, and they may have succeeded in that to a large extent in many dossiers. Regardless of the fact that their success in any of them meant the victory of one US current over another in points, and therefore the two teams together were facing foreign issues, not with the sum of the points of each, but with the point difference between them. That is, facing foreign issues from a much weaker position. This continues now and will be reinforced further.
What About Syria?
The most common readout by US think tanks, as well as in the media, is that the US administration is not currently interested in the Syrian issue. One of the expressions of this is that Biden has not yet said anything significant related to Syria, as well as the positions related to the US’s Syrian file are still vacant. (Of course, except for the position occupied by none other than the hysterical man named Joel Rayburn, a position that has continued without interruption, and can be summed up in one task: Following the exchange rate of the Syrian pound against the dollar and expressing joy whenever the value of the Syrian pound depreciates, in a scene of despicable gloating that is perfectly appropriate for the morals of the first criminals who killed 90 million Native Americans to establish their state.)
Returning to the issue of vacancies, the US State Department announced last Thursday the appointment of Aimee Cutrona as the Acting Special Representative for Syria Engagement. This means that she will temporarily perform Jeffrey’s job pending either permanent confirmation or change.
The change here may mean changing her or even the position itself, as there is talk about the possibility of returning to the formula that was adopted prior to Trump’s presidency, where the Syrian issue does not have a special envoy, but rather an official overseeing the file, which means reducing the importance of the issue within US dealings.
Regarding these possibilities, there is a large number of analyses and expectations, but nearly all media outlets are in agreement in repeating the nonsense by saying: “There is no clear US policy towards Syria yet”.
“The lack of a clear policy” means one thing only, which is the continuation of the previous policy that was in place during the Trump era. That is, the continuation of the “stalemate is stability” and the “quagmire” policies. The introduction with which we started the article regarding the extent of “seriousness” of change of US policies between the two administrations is to demonstrate that the reality in a large number of US foreign files is more complex than the simplified concept of a transition between two contradictory administrations.
Those who draw the detailed policies on Syria within the American power establishment did not actually change with the change of administration, and even a large part of those who execute the policies did not change either. Both of those are the same policymakers who have been responsible for the Syria file since Obama’s presidency, and have the same strategic goal direction: At most, attempting to use Syria as the spark to detonate the entire region, with the hopes that the explosion reaches the rising international opponent countries, or at a minimum making Syria a quagmire in which these rising powers drown.
The previous readout might suggest two things: First, the US will not change any of its policies towards Syria; and second, the possibilities of international consensus on a solution in Syria are non-existent.
The truth is that the two matters may actually be as such, although this does not exclude the possibility of change in both, at least based on changes in international balances. Among the interpretations of what is being described as ambiguity in US policy towards Syria, is that it is an intentionally “ambiguous” policy so that it is adaptable to the great possibilities of change in the event international consensus is reached. This possibility cannot be denied, but certainly we cannot rely on and wait for an American change, especially in light of the tremendous deterioration that Syria is going through in the economic and social sense.
What should be done is to move towards a solution, that is, towards the actual implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254, regardless of the US’s opinion about that, while leaving the door ajar for the US to join the process, as this would reduce the amount of sabotage that it is still capable of doing.