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Sunday, 26 June 2022
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Biden's expected policy on Syria
Jwan Dibo

There is no doubt that President-elect, Joe Biden, will face an intricate reality in Syria, as one of the consequences of his predecessor legacy. More precisely, Biden will encounter the repercussions of two previous administrations’ policies in Syria including Obama’s one, when Biden himself was vice president.


The pressing question here is: can Biden present something different than Trump’s administration in Syria? This fundamental question leads us to pose another enquiry which is: does Biden really want to get rid of the effects of Obama and Trump’s politics in Syria and espouse a different strategy? The answer to these questions seems to be a little gloomy.


Biden’s appointed team for the Middle East, will deal with three external players in Syria with antithetical agendas and goals. Two of them are classified as traditional enemies to U.S, viz., Russia and Iran and the third one is an ally but not a friend, namely, Turkey. However, prior to predict how Biden’s crew will interact with all these unfriendly exterior actors in Syria, it is important that to highlight Syria's position in U.S foreign policy.


Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, American’s influence in Syria was limited, and it became diminished further during Trump’s era. This reflects the absence of an outright U.S strategy regarding the future of the Syrian conflict. The lack of a clear U.S strategy, indicates to Washington's indifference about the future of Syria.


When U.S began air strikes in Syria in September 2014, the stated target was defeating the Islamic State (ISIS). After a while, U.S deployed several thousands of its troops in north, northeast and south of Syria. In March 2019, U.S backed, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), declared that the Islamic State group’s five years caliphate was eliminated.


Despite that decisive victory, U.S continued to supply SDF with various weapons and ammunition. Shortly thereafter, U.S withdrew most of its troops from Syria. Yet, it kept a few hundred soldiers in Kurdish areas in north and northeast Syria to protect oil installations. At the same time, U.S allowed Turkey to occupy some Kurdish cities and towns. The point here is that there has always been inconsistency and ambiguity in U.S policies in Syria, which suggests that Syria is not one of Washington's priorities.


When Biden was Obama’s vice president, he was, unlike the former secretary Hilary Clinton, sceptical of deep involvement in the Syrian civil war. He was not even enthusiastic about arming the Syrian opposition, due to fear of extremist domination, and this is what actually happened later. But after several years, the landscape has changed completely, and the Kurdish-led SDF are now Washington's main and only allies.


It is likely that U.S, during Biden’s presidency, will maintain its presence in Syria without substantive changes. It will, also, continue to support SDF with ammunition, weapons, and training. In addition, it will not allow Turkey and the Syrian regime to expand further at the expense of the leverage of its ally, SDF.


On the level of political solution path, Biden’s administration will try to contribute more effectively. It will endeavour to involve Kurdish-led SDF as an independent delegation within the negotiations for a political solution between Assad regime and the Syrian oppositions. In this context, U.S envoy, William Rubak, has led, for more than a year, reconciliation efforts between various Kurdish political forces in Syria, with the aim of creating a joint Kurdish representative body.


It can be argued that Biden's policies in Syria will be more consistent and rational than his predecessor. Biden will attempt, through his local partner, SDF, for America to have a prominent role in shaping the future of Syria. He will make U.S a strong rival to Russia about the future of the political system in Syria. Turkey will be deterred relatively over its infringements in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and the Eastern Mediterranean, because such Turkey's behaviour does not serve US interests. Biden will continue to support Israel to deter Iran in Syria, which will also benefit Russia in the long run.


Overall, Biden’s policy in Syria may not be a much promising policy, especially, for the Kurds, but it is likely to be much better than Trump's reckless policies.


Jwan Dibo,