Tillerson told Guterres that Washington has “limited tactical goals” in Syria, and that this doesn’t include weakening Assad’s government or “trying to prop up rebels,” despite having spent many years propping up the Qaeda-allied rebels and repeatedly demanding regime change.
If Tillerson’s comments are an accurate statement of US policy, it might significantly change policy, as it would presumably mean the end of US attacks against Syrian military targets and allies, and a return to a focus on fighting ISIL. This, ironically, was the policy that President Trump had been expected to follow when he took office, before shifting his focus rather dramatically:
-We can still remember vividly how at a news conference in the Turkish capital, Secretary of State Tillerson said the end of Bashar Assad’s presidency was no longer a prerequisite for a way out of the Syrian crisis, in a U-turn from Washington’s long-held policy. “I think the longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people,” said Tillerson last month at a joint conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevut Cavusoglu.
-We can also remember vividly how White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Syrian citizens should decide whether President Assad remains in office amid criticism over the Trump administration’s openness to allowing the elected president to stay put. “With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now,” Spicer told reporters, adding that the US needs to prioritize the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
At any rate, Tillerson’s recent comments that the fate of Assad is “now up to Russia” are a departure from policies of past administration concerning President Assad, a key ally of Iran and Russia. The Obama administration had for years asserted, along with many European leaders, that President Assad should step aside after the US-led war against Syria began in 2011.
All these comments and policies are off the line. Their suggestion that Assad can stay in power or Russia could decide his fate appears to be just as devoid of strategy as President Obama’s pronouncements that “Assad must go.” Once again, US policy in Syria is being presented piecemeal in press statements without any definition of diplomacy, reality and respect for International Law, much less a realistic plan to achieve it.
Washington knows that its regime change plans have already failed and it is left with no other option, but to declare – in implied terms and at least in words – recognition of the democratically elected president of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad. The Trump White House is now thinking of Plan B for keeping the foe in turmoil: secession of parts of the war-hit nation, starting from Kurdish regions in the North and North-East. Washington’s goal has always been to weaken the Resistance Front member states one way or another. Now that the US and its regional allies have worn off a part of the potentials, capacities, possibilities and resources of Syria, Iraq and their allies through proxy forces, i.e. militants of different sorts, it now intends to cut off parts of the two states to put an end to their threat to Israel and the US interests in the region. That’s why the US secretary of state says the fate of Assad is up to Russia. That means a concession to the rival power which should be reciprocated with a concession in return: recognition of the US plan for Kurdish regions.
However, to suggest that President Assad’s fate is at Russia’s hands is unacceptable for the Syrian people. It ignores their right to freedom and self-determination under UN Charter and International Law. After all, they want their elected president to stay in power because he is the only leader that stood by them through thick and thin, particularly when the world turned its back on Syria and watched in horror as foreign-backed terrorist groups slaughtered civilians in broad daylight and declared their medieval caliphate in the Levant.
No doubt the terrorist groups have been defeated, the war on Syria is ending, and the Syrian people want their president to stay in power until the next elections. Hundreds of thousands have died in the fight to accomplish exactly this democratic goal. It reflects the reality that it is up to the Syrian people and not Russia and certainly not Iran or any other power to decide President Assad’s fate. The Syrian people and government as well as their Iranian-Russian allies have profound priorities. They have made it clear that counter-terrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIL, is foremost among those priorities. The next election in Syria will be held when Bashar Al-Assad’s current terms comes to an end.
Speaking of democracy, those who claim to be at the center of democracy in the world mainly the United States and NATO allies are expected to allow the people of Syria have the freedom to choose their next leader and get involved in governance. They should have the right to vote and the freedom to elect representatives they prefer through the electoral process. They should be given the right to decide, by way of voting, on issues in politics, economics and social. As for electing the president who makes significant and major decisions, the people of Syria should have the right to vote the right candidate as well.
The Syrian government has already made it clear that in post-ISIL Syria it will let the people pick the leader of the nation and give them a sense of belonging and self-worth. With the freedom to vote, every voting citizen will be able to make a difference in the country. This promotes equality among the citizens, allows people to voice out their issues, and favors the majority. Like Iran, Russia has also reiterated time and again that its military assistance to Damascus was extended at the request of Syria’s legal President, and that it may not allow disintegration of the nation. Tehran and Moscow have both underlined on various occasions all throughout the last several years that Syria’s sovereignty and its geographical borders should remain intact. Even Turkey that is no shy of admitting large-scale support for various militant groups in Syria has repeatedly stressed its identical view with Tehran and Moscow in this regard, as a new world country called Kurdistan is a major threat to Turkey’s security and stability as well.
Hence, all key actors on the Syrian battlefield today see Bashar Al-Assad as the legal and democratically elected president of Syria. Meaning that the decision about the number one man of this embattled state should be made at the ballot box and at the end of Bashar Al-Assad’s current term. This is an already established fact, and the US cannot expect anything in return for giving up its illusions.