It would be too naive to equate the US intervention in Afghanistan with that of Syria. Yet, Syria resembles Afghanistan in many ways, and most importantly, the lack of a clear US policy. Since the onset of the conflict in Syria and Afghanistan, the US has lacked a consistent strategy. Its fiasco in Afghanistan highlights its weak policy. In Syria, the situation is more complicated. The Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations failed to determine what the US hoped to achieve there. Though former President Barack Obama approached Syria with promises for democratization, he did not take any meaningful steps to achieve this end goal.
Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw from northeast Syria, while giving Turkey more leeway to advance in northern Syria further proves he lacked a vision, too. Now, the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the successful takeover of the Taliban, which the Syrian opposition groups perceive as a monumental event, offer a glimmer of hope that Washington is losing its international credibility and might withdraw, in the not-too-distant future, from Syria. However, this argument is heavily contested.
Predictably, Russia would seize the opportunity to expand in Syria if the US withdraws. As Raghida Dergham, the founder and executive chairwoman of the Beirut Institute and a columnist for The National argues: “An American exit from the Middle East will not serve its national security interests well. It could even undermine the Biden presidency, since withdrawal will only serve its rivals’ interests – Iran’s in Iraq, Russia’s in Syria, and China’s in both countries. It will deprive the US of many strategic advantages.” Though it lacks a coherent policy there, the US presence in Syria acts as a hedge against Iran, which dreams of turning Syria into a “land bridge” that would make it more easily for Tehran to supply weapons to its allies in Lebanon, namely, Hezbollah.
Nevertheless, if the US continues to have a vague policy in Syria, the cost would be too high for Washington and the Syrians as well. In sham elections, Bashar-Al Assad has own with purportedly 95.1 percent of the votes in May. Equally concerning is the ability of the regime to regain control, with the help of Russia and Iran, over large swathes of the country.
Despite the bleak outlook, the US could seize the diplomatic relation with the Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria to ensure stability, rule of law, and promote human rights.
Reem Salahi, a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, writes: “Enhancing internal stability and the rule of law can ensure that these areas are not ticking time bombs for dissent or breeding grounds for extremist groups to exploit community grievances. The US should support these areas to become models for other regions and governing bodies in Syria.”
To avoid further tensions between Turkey and the Kurdish authorities, the US should work on deescalating the conflict between the two parties as well.
If the Kurdish authorities and Bashar-Al Assad achieve a common ground, this might put hundreds and even thousands living in northeast Syria under unprecedented threat.
If Afghanistan has to teach us anything, it is that the Biden administration should end the non-existent/ vague Syria policy. Working with allies in northeast Syria could translate into political leverage in future political settlements.
“The longer the Syrian conflict continues the more intractable and unmanageable it becomes. It would be a travesty that, after years of involvement and presence in Syria, the US’s only contribution would be to frantically evacuate a small fraction of its allies and partners as millions of civilians are left to uncertain and dangerous fates,” Salahia added.