From “Changing the Regime’s Behavior” to “Step for Step”, Where Are the Under-the-Table Agreements with the West Today?

From “Changing the Regime’s Behavior” to “Step for Step”, Where Are the Under-the-Table Agreements with the West Today?

Some believe that the so-called “Step for Step” (S4S) project, which De Mistura launched in 2017 (through his plan that did not see the light at the time and was called the “Pre-Transitional Phase”) and which Pedersen continues to work on under its current name, has reached a dead end and has been put away.

Those who hold this opinion base it on several indicators, including:

1- Until now, there has been no serious lifting of sanctions – and at times they have been tightened – despite the legal and administrative measures and changes undertaken by the Syrian authorities, which are classified as indicators of being engaged in the S4S.

2- There has been no positive Syrian official interaction with the S4S project, and it can even be said that the declared official interaction was reserved and closer to a rejection.

3- The assumptions that have been built that normalizing relations with Arab countries would lead towards breakthroughs in terms of reconstruction or investment financing, did not turn into reality, not even partially.

4- The “assurances” received by a portion of those who hold this opinion, especially within the opposition, from Western and international sides, are that the project has reached a dead end and has been put away once and for all.

The actual context

Although the S4S project is attributed in the media primarily to Jordan, and to some extent to the UAE, and to Pedersen to a lesser extent, considering that Jordan was among the first to talk about it, this should not mislead in understanding and knowing its true owners.

Moreover, Jordan being at the media forefront for the S4S project at its beginnings could itself be an indicator that helps in understanding the source of the project, taking into consideration the context within which the Syrian crisis developed at the time, on the one hand, and the well-known relations between Jordan and Britain, on the other hand.

Focusing on Britain in this context is not just a simple causal link between events. Let us recall that the entire West, even after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2254 at the end of 2015, was still calling for the overthrow of the Syrian regime. The first to change this discourse at the Western level were the British, who in 2016 (that is, shortly after the direct Russian military intervention in Syria) coined the expression “changing the regime’s behavior”, and later, at the European level, they introduced what they called the “three NOs” (NO to normalizing with the regime, NO to reconstruction, and NO to lifting sanctions). Little by little, “changing the regime’s behavior” became the slogan adopted by the entire West.

The essence of S4S, at least within the declared parameters of this project, is that the West is willing to gradually give up its three NOs in exchange for certain steps taken by the Syrian regime. That is, the essence of this plan is the same as the essence of the slogan “changing the regime’s behavior”.

Essence of the essence

However, what is meant and what is required in the end by “changing the regime’s behavior” through “step for step”? (In this context, it may be useful to look at Kassioun Research Unit’s article of 19 December 2021, titled: “Where is the Process of ‘Changing the Regime’s Behavior’? Context… Tools… Results”).

In order not to prolong the analysis necessary to reach the results, we will start with a set of condensed premises, which we claim are correct, and allow reaching an understanding of the essence of the issue under consideration:

First: The entire Western hegemony, the American one in particular, is experiencing a huge threat stemming primarily from internal crises (financial transformation, the shift of the center of production to the east, etc.) and external ones, the most important of which is the rise of many powers around the world economically (especially in manufacturing), militarily, politically, and even culturally.

Second: The basic, and almost only, tool in the Americans’ hands to prevent the fall of its hegemony is war and expanding the scope of the war, particularly hybrid war. That is, comprehensive hybrid chaos as a tool to exhaust rising powers and attempt to undermine them from their surroundings and from within, to prevent the natural course of history, which tends towards translating new economic weights into new financial and political weights.

Third: Our region, the “Middle East”, is one of the most important arenas of global geopolitical conflict. Thus, it is not allowed to move towards stability, because that simply means completing the major geopolitical projects of the rising powers, especially China and Russia, through the Belt and Road and the Eurasian project. Therefore, it is an American requirement for this entire region to burn up with comprehensive, hybrid chaos.

Fourth: The search for relative independence of European positions from American ones is legitimate in theory, but not before stormy internal changes take place in Europe. What happened and is happening with regard to Ukraine and energy and liquefied gas policies, environmental and agricultural policies, and the positions on what is happening in the Red Sea, all of it says that the official employees in Europe (i.e., its current leaders) are actually employees, not leaders, and they are largely aligned with American interests, and completely against European interests.

Based on these premises, we can say the following with regard to Syria:

First: Implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254 was never a real American objective. The real objective was and still is “making Syria a quagmire” as stated by the former US Envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey.

Second: The West’s acceptance of UNSC Resolution 2254 at the end of 2015 is not at all different from its acceptance of the Ukraine-related Minsk Agreements, regarding which the West’s leaders (including Merkel) admitted accepting not in order to implement them, but rather to give Ukraine time to prepare for war. The same goes for Syria. Accepting UNSC Resolution 2254 was not for the purpose of implementing it, but to get more time (after failing to execute the Iraqi/Libyan scenario) to get the same results as those two scenarios, albeit using other economic-political tools, while continuing to partially use military tools, especially ISIS.

So, what is the project?

In essence, the project includes the following:

1- Prevent restoring Syria’s unity, and the most important tool for that is finding a way to legitimize all the controlling authorities now in all the areas of influence in Syria (implicitly, “Syrianizing al-Nusra”).

2- Tempting the dominant forces within the areas of influence in Syria by lifting the three NOs off them, in exchange for “changing behavior”, which consists of several economic, political, and strategic elements.

3- The main economic elements include completing implementation of the IMF and World Bank projects in Syria, which have started in 2005. That is, getting Syria to a legal-economic state that is similar to the one on which the current Argentinian president is working: ending any role for the state, ending any subsidy of any kind, complete flotation, ending any historical rights or gains that productive classes have obtained, ending anything of a productive nature in the country, and deepening and bolstering the criminal financial activity as the dominant activity (something that a significant part of which has been accomplished, using sanctions as one of the main incentivizing tools).

4- The political elements include bolstering and legislating military weakness in Syria, not only through reinforcing Syria’s division, but also through preemptive legal start including requirements related to the active army size, types of weapons, etc. (for example something like what was done in Lebanon).

5- The political elements also include the final and blatant moving of the rifle from one shoulder to another, or even tossing it. That is, engaging in an Emirati-Jordanian sponsored normalization process with the Zionist entity. Of course, that includes expelling Iranian forces from Syria (and only Iranian force, with the others staying, and even a possibility of new forces coming in, e.g., Jordanian forces).

6- Transforming the idea of “decentralization” from a slogan and tool of governance that Syrians could agree on and on its limits in a manner that serves their interests, to an implementation tool for the “changing the regime’s behavior” process. Perhaps the UN’s activity lately in this regard, and no other, allows for such assumption, especially since signs of response within the same context have appeared from several sides simultaneously.

7- The S4S project’s sides are the West and the regime, while the Syrian opposition is not a side thereto, and it is not based on UNSC Resolution 2254. Thus, those who are comforted by the West’s talk about “putting away this project” must think in the opposite way. This is because proposing the project as a tool to implement 2254, was the first step (in reality the second after the “changing the regime’s behavior” slogan) in the gradual shedding of 2254. Now, when some are told that the project is being put away, what is really meant is that the act in which they had a necessary part is over, and next there will be a transition to the actual work, in which they have no place (no Constitutional Committee, no negotiation, no political transition, but only “behavior change” and bilateral arrangements).

What are the chances of the project’s success?

Despite the many indications of the feverish enthusiasm with which the West and Syrian sides that reject the political solution are working towards implementing “step for step”, the chances of implementing this project – in our opinion – are very low, for the following reasons:

First: The project plan assumes that the “Israeli side” is a strong and effective side in the regional framework, which is something that only those with severe political shortsightedness (if we are to use a nice term) believe anymore.

Second: The plan is based on the fact that the “Iranian side” is weak, besieged, and can be encircled and subjugated through intimidation and enticement, which is what the description of those who say it applies to the previous description.

Third: Assuming that the US is in a comfortable place allowing it to implement its projects and ensuring their completion before thinking about withdrawing from the region, and that it can also contain Turkey and bringing it to its side in the implementation.

Fourth: Assuming that China and Russia will stand by idly in the face of this project, which directly targets them by sustaining and deepening the comprehensive hybrid chaos in the Middle East. (It is amusing in this context, that just as the media promoted the idea that Saudi Arabia accepted normalization in exchange for stopping the aggression against Gaza and that is it, it also promoted that Russia accepted “step for step”, once in exchange for something in Ukraine and once in exchange for something related to sanctions, and so forth with other dismal nonsense).

Fifth: The full outline of the project, especially its end relating to normalization with the Zionist entity, necessarily requires the active participation of Saudi Arabia, especially in preparing the ground in this direction. This pillar received an important public blow with the recent statement of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Sixth: The wrong and shortsighted assumption that the extreme state of exhaustion the Syrian people have reached could push them to accept anything and everything, including accepting normalization with the Zionists.

The role of patriotic Syrians

Although all the previous factors ultimately indicate that the probability of implementing this project is very low, it still exists. This is on the one hand, and on the other hand, the failure to work against it, and the failure to take effective initiatives towards a political solution represented by the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254, by benefiting from each of Astana, China, and the main Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the existing objective overlap of their interests, without taking effective initiatives, the suffering will be prolonged and the catastrophe will deepen. This is because every additional step forward within “step for step”, even if it does not reach its end, is ten steps backward with regard to the Syrian economy, the livelihood of Syrians, and the extent of their disaster.

Therefore, patriotic Syrians and the Syrian opposition must take the initiative to push for the implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254, regardless of what the Americans want, and especially without falling into the traps of misleading Western reassurances.

(Arabic version)

Last modified on Monday, 12 February 2024 13:43