Bashar Assad, Iran just reached point of no return in Syria

THE EDITORIAL BOARD
ISTANBUL
Published

On Friday evening, U.S. President Donald Trump stood before television cameras to announce that he had ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to launch "precision strikes" against regime positions in Syria. The announcement came a week after Bashar Assad carried out a chemical attack against innocent civilians in Douma, a small town near the Syrian capital Damascus, claiming dozens of casualties. Turkey welcomed Washington's decision, which, it said, "eased humanity's conscience."

In light of the most recent developments in Syria, it has become clear that the Assad regime should not survive. Nor can the Syrian dictator, who has killed hundreds of thousands of his country's citizens, play any role in the future of Syria.

In recent years, the Syrian regime repeatedly misled the United States and Russia, along with others, into believing that it would abandon its chemical weapons program. At the time, the international community was so eager to believe that it was making some progress in Syria that the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its "extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons." To nobody's surprise, it turned out that the Syrian regime indeed had a large amount of chemical weapons at its disposal.

In retrospect, the fact that the same people thought U.S. President Barack Obama, whose inaction encouraged Assad to massacre innocent people, deserved a "peace prize" should have been telling.

At this point, Assad offers little and does significant damage to his allies. To be clear, it makes no sense for the Syrian regime's protectors to continue their support. For the Russians, it is time to abandon the criminal in Damascus and work with Turkey and others to shape the country's future. There are many opportunities in the Middle East that Moscow could seize – but only if it stops carrying the dead weight of Assad and his atrocities.

But the problems in Syria are not limited to the regime and their solution requires the support of Western countries as well. France, for instance, could play a constructive role in Syria. In addition to working toward the preservation of the country's territorial integrity, Paris can build on its historical relations with the Syrian Arabs to promote a political solution. The obvious obstacle before France's efforts to maximize its interests in Syria is the French government itself. If French President Emmanuel Macron opts to protect the terrorist organization PKK and its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed People's Protection Units (YPG), because he wants to get back at Daesh for the Paris and Nice terror attacks, his country will pay a heavy price. Fighting a terrorist organization and addressing the threat posed by returning foreign fighters is a serious challenge – which France could address by helping to restore peace and stability in Syria and cooperating with the international community instead of having a knee-jerk reaction.

It is time for the United States to present the world with a coherent Syria policy – right after U.S. President Donald Trump, the Pentagon, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the State Department and National Security Adviser John Bolton sign off on the same plan.

Until now, Washington has put a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. The Obama administration's decision to partner with non-state actors instead of making actual decisions was doomed to fail. Retaliating against the Assad regime's chemical attacks is not an actual policy either. Nor did attempts by the United States to sabotage the Astana process and the Sochi talks amount to a policy.

Washington's lack of a coherent policy hurts its reputation in the Middle East. People around the world know that last weekend's retaliatory strikes amounted to nothing but a facade. There are a number of smart and result-oriented steps that the Trump administration could take in cooperation with Turkey and Russia – including in the fight against Daesh terrorism. By tapping into Turkey's vast diplomatic experience, Washington could address tensions with Russia and keep its eye on the prize. Although President Trump made an important point in his announcement, developing long-term solutions is the ultimate answer. The United States has a responsibility to ensure that innocent civilians are not killed – with chemical or conventional weapons.

There is a way the U.S., Russia and France can join Turkey to make peace possible in Syria. However, there is one factor that all parties concerned need to take action against and that is Iran's sectarian expansionism. It has become the main source of instability and violence in the wider region. Particularly due to its long-standing conflicts with the West and regional powers, Tehran's involvement in any attempt to resolve the Syrian crisis makes things complicated and causes unnecessary suffering for the people of Syria. Iran prefers to sew sectarian hatred rather than encourage cooperation. Tehran has exploited the goodwill of Turkey and a handful of other countries, which want to avoid unnecessary violence and polarization in the region.

What Syria needs is an end to Iran's sectarian policy and this can only happen if the remaining actors cooperate in instituting a new government in Syria without Assad. The Syrian people deserve the commitment of the international community to ensure the end of bloodshed and the introduction of peace. They have suffered enough.

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