Washington on Assad: A political reality we must accept

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently dropped a bombshell when he said that, regarding Assad, “there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now.”

Why? It is because “the United States has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq and we’ve made it clear that counterterrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities.” This is what Spicer said.

Actually, this dangerous announcement does not indicate that US President Donald Trump has deviated from the pledges he made during his electoral campaign. Back then, Trump criticized the policy of his predecessor, Obama, because he let Iran take over Iraq and Syria. He said that when he becomes president, he will focus on fighting terrorist organizations in cooperation with the Russians. On a practical level, he is currently implementing what he said before.

The difficult question is how can Trump fight Iranian influence and ISIS while cooperating with the Damascus regime at the same time?

Before the civil war in Syria erupted, Damascus’ relations with Tehran regime were strategic and they led to the deterioration of the Assad regime’s relations with the countries from the moderate camp, such as Gulf countries and Egypt.

The US, which was deeply involved in the Iraq crisis following occupation, realized that Iran used Syria as a center to host terrorists from across the world and prepared them to fight in Iraq under the flag of al-Qaeda for the duration of six years.

The tough way out

Since the beginning of the revolution in Syria, most Gulf countries had desired to avoid it. However, Damascus preferred the tough way out: cooperate with Iran to confront the defections and fight the armed opposition. What actually happened is that Iran’s military support failed to save the Syrian regime.

The latter wouldn’t have survived until now – or until this phase which Spicer dubbed the new political reality – if it hadn’t been for the massive military Russian intervention. If we accept this truth, then the Syrian regime must accept it too. Iran was the problem yesterday and it will be the problem tomorrow.

Iran is the reason behind Damascus’ disputes with Arab countries, which are defending themselves against the Iranian aggressive and destructive expansion which has not stopped.

This Arab struggle with Ayatollah’s regime has nothing to do with the Arab disputes with the regime of Bashar al-Assad who did not manage his relations with Arab countries well – unlike his late father Hafez al-Assad. The latter maintained relations between Arab countries as well as Iran and he was a positive mediator in the Iran-Gulf disputes.

The desire for a political solution in Syria has been the project of the Syrian opposition for more than three years – particularly since it became clear that neither party will win through the power of weapons

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The new political reality

Gulf countries may shift toward dealing positively with “the new political reality.” This is something that Turkey has begun doing since isolating Ahmet Davutoglu and assigning Binali Yildirim as prime minister instead.

The first question is whether the Damascus regime desires to end Iranian military presence on its territories or not? The complementing question would be the following: Can it actually do so if it decides to get rid of the Iranian Quds force and Lebanese, Iraqi, Pakistani and Afghani militias, which are estimated to be 50,000 in number?

The desire for a political solution to the Syrian crisis has been the project of the Syrian opposition for more than three years now – particularly since it became clear that neither party will win the war through the power of weapons.

The dispute was and still is over the solution formula. Today, however, we can say that a solution failed as Assad has exclusive power over everything – or so he thinks. Truth remains though that Syria resembles a broken jar. Let us see how he will be able to fix it on the administrative, political and security levels without the support of moderate Arab countries.

The next difficult formula – provided there is an agreement to keep the Assad regime – lies in how to get Iran out of the presidential palace in Damascus when the Ayatollah regime continues to control the basic pillars of the Syrian state.

I think Syria will not witness stability no matter how much world powers agree. I am not saying this out of moral denial to what’s happening but the Syrian reality itself is much bigger than Iran, Russia and the Damascus regime.

Being realistic requires understanding this point: Iran’s and its militias’ presence in Syria will thwart any agreement that a party signs.

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on April 04, 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

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