The US should accept the power of a ruthless leader

Why the United States should start negotiating with Assad instead of pushing for his resignation

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad grafitti in the “Abode of Chaos” museum of contemporary art, in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or, Rhône-Alpes region, France (Thierry Ehrmann/Flickr)

With a country far past the brink of destruction, where millions upon millions of refugees are fleeing to Germany, and an Islamic extremist group is controlling an area the size of Jordan from within the country’s own borders, no one in the United States seems to be informed about what is happening in Syria and this is obviously a huge problem.

Too many American citizens are adhering to the affluent voices of the interventionists and are jumping on a political bandwagon which supports the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Although toppling this war criminal may seem like something that would get Americans’ adrenaline pumping, why would we unseat a man who is the only source of power keeping Syria from buckling under its own weight and falling completely into the hands of the Islamic State?

You would probably respond with the rational assertion that because he is a war criminal, that by not delegating our American globalized military power to reduce Assad to the grime that he embodies, we would not be fulfilling our duty as Americans. Although this declaration does hold some value, it would be irresponsible for the United States to drive out the only powerful leader in a country that is already fragmented by other accompanying factions that are also making progress on our list of enemies.

A UN resolution condemning the use of barrel bombs in civilian areas, has failed to stop the Syrian regime using them. Mark Kelly reports. (Video provided by Getty, Reporting by The Wall Street Journal)

Nobody should be supporting Assad with weapons or the like (except for maybe Russian President Vladimir Putin, but even that is up for debate). Assad should not be put on a pedestal and praised for his actions in Syria. He has acted beyond irresponsibly in controlling his own people and his use of chemical weapons is abhorrent. By grouping the Syrian rebels with that of the Islamic State he is pummeling his own civilians with barrel bombs, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. This is not a man who should be running a country, but unfortunately it is not up to the United States to decide his political fate. As long as the American political establishment ignores Assad’s existence as a leader, more innocent people will be killed and the Islamic State will only gain traction.

Russia has been the only world power to step up to the plate and actually speak with Assad. On October 21st, Assad even took a trip over to Moscow to shake hands with President Putin and get a couple of smiley snapshots. This obviously being a huge blow to the American foreign policy strategy in Syria.

it would be irresponsible for the United States to drive out the only powerful leader in a country that is already fragmented by other accompanying factions that are also making progress on our list of enemies.

Here is the President of Russia meeting and shaking hands with the only man controlling Syria, while us Americans are sitting comfortably at home, twiddling our thumbs and supporting the “moderate rebels” in Syria with the only way we know how: guns. But what should happen now? Putin has already seemingly “claimed” Syria as his project for experimentation. How does the United States combat this Russian aggression and become an active player in Syria? The best answer is: negotiate! But why is the United States not already negotiating? You might ask. Because American foreign policy advisers have found out that it’s a bit difficult to negotiate with a man who the US outwardly states wants out of power. The United States will not even give Assad or his advisers the light of day in the negotiations room. How can they solve a conflict in Syria without speaking to anyone that is actually running Syria?

We don’t negotiate with terrorists! …Sound familiar?

At a joint session of Congress President Bush pledges to defend America’s freedom against the fear of terrorism. September 20, 2001 (Photo by Creative Commons)
Here is the President of Russia meeting and shaking hands with the only man controlling Syria, while us Americans are sitting comfortably at home, twiddling our thumbs and supporting the “moderate rebels” in Syria with the only way we know how: guns.

But for some reason a war-mongering majority still exists and thinks that sending in ground troops or dispatching more drones to detach Assad from his government sounds like a better idea. This NPR WBUR interview with Stephen Kinzer, an author, journalist and former New York Times correspondent outlines exactly why this is not a good idea. Kinzer says that:

“It’s always a mistake to destroy a political order, no matter how repressive, without knowing what comes next.”

This is obviously in reference to the botched political revolutions in Libya and Egypt, as well as the American intervention in Iraq. In Libya, revolutionaries did not know how to handle themselves after Muammar Gaddafi and his forty-two year rule ended. Libya is now torn between varying groups of militias, tribes and Arab nationalists, all wrestling for power. Boko Haram, now an active allegiant of the Islamic State, benefited greatly from the Libyan revolution, where they were able to circumvent US-approved weapons meant for Libyan rebels, into their own hands.

We don’t negotiate with terrorists! …Sound familiar?
Tensions remain high in Libya as the militias from the western city of Misrata are ordered to leave the capital Tripoli. (Video by BBC News)

It is not easy to simply send in troops, topple a dictator, restore democracy, quell the dissidents and fly back home in a timely manner.

Obviously Putin didn’t get the memo.

Although it may seem like Russia has been the best player in this revolution, all they have done is support furthering the murder of Syrian civilians. By supporting Assad’s anti-rebel agenda (which has really just morphed into an attack on his own innocent civilians) Russia has painted a huge target on their backs. As if Putin’s invasion of Crimea wasn’t enough, he is now trying to flex his muscles in Syria in order to embarrass the US agenda (and it seems to be working). Russia is supporting their ally, while also trying to fight a common enemy (the Islamic State). What is the United States doing? Not too much to be honest, especially after ending their Syrian rebel training program in early October.

“It’s always a mistake to destroy a political order, no matter how repressive, without knowing what comes next.”

We need a plan in Syria and luckily it seems like Secretary of State John Kerry is attempting to work out a resolution. The talks in Vienna with Turkish Minister Sinirlioglu, Saudi Minister al-Jubeir, and Russian Minister Lavrov still don’t include Syrian representatives, but it’s a step in the right direction. US officials need to actively sort out a leadership plan in Syria and these talks could be the beginning of that. A clear strategy needs to be forged on who needs to be eliminated from the country of about twenty-three million people. It seems that right now the only people the US is backing are these “moderate rebels”, but how reasonable is this strategy and how are they truly supporting these “moderate rebels”? This is not meant to disgrace the importance of these rebels and their ideas, but the US will not get anywhere close to a resolution if they are supporting a small minority of rebels fighting in a war among major majorities.

Assad is not a man that the United States should be allies with, but he is still the most powerful man in Syria and this is hard fact to ignore. It would be irresponsible for the United States to not recognize the importance of Assad in Syria and use him to their advantage. It is very difficult to negotiate with someone after you’ve said that they should no longer be there when negotiations have ceased. As Stephen Kinzer says in his interview with NPR WBUR:

“If you want to solve a crisis you have to talk with people that you hate.”
March to Support the criminal Bashar al-Assad (Beshr Abdulhadi/Flickr)
It is not easy to simply send in troops, topple a dictator, restore democracy, quell the dissidents and fly back home in a timely manner.

Teaming up with Assad is not an option, and although his political future is weary, if the United States were to accept Assad as Syria’s leader and one of the few people with a power position in the country, then they could be even closer to a resolution. The United States cannot tell Assad to step down while a revolution is occurring. Syria would crumble under its own feet and extremists would be the only source of competence in the country. The United States can no longer let Russia take the reins on Syria because only more death will come from it. Even if the United States does not want to accept Assad as Syria’s leader, the killing needs to stop, and this acceptance will only happen if US officials swallow their pride and start negotiating with the man that they hate most.

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