By: Naila Rafique
Syria has suffered from a civil war for the past seven years now. This conflict has torn the country apart and attracted international attention and scorn, including from the United States, for its use of chemical weapons. All previous deliberations have been unsuccessful. To make matters complicated, the new Trump administration launched air missiles at a Syrian airfield. The Trump administration has not clarified if this was a single attack or part of a broader political strategy towards the complicated and stagnant Syria conflict.
US policies towards the Syrian conflict have thus far been unsuccessful. Former President Obama called for the resignation of Syrian President Assad in August 2011 with the signing of an Executive Order 13582. In February 2016, the United States, Russia, and Syria agreed to a cease-fire at the Geneva Peace Conference. It should be noted that other nations and organizations have implemented economic sanctions and similar procedural methods to put pressure on Assad, including The Arab League, European Union, China, and Turkey
The Trump administration has taken similar procedural methods as the Obama administration by supporting Russian-led cease-fire talks. Even though President Trump has been quiet about how exactly to deal with the Syria conflict, it is clear that the Trump Administration is not afraid to take retaliatory action. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “if you violate international norms, if you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.” The White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, also mentioned, “the President retains the option to act in Syria against the Assad regime whenever it is in the national interest, as was determined following that government’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.” Although the Trump administration has not laid out a clear strategy, it is clear that they are not afraid to take action.
Some issues that stand in the way of an effective Syria policy include the involvement of non-state actors, a lack of informational transparency, unstable strategies, and poor international public opinion. According to the US foreign policy scholar, Patrick O’Heffernan, non-state actors may range from terrorists to nongovernmental organizations (NGO) who lobby for their causes at both the domestic and international levels. In the Syrian conflict, some non-state actors are unwilling to consider a plan without the ousting of President Assad, causing a stalemate in negotiations. There needs to be a push for actors on all sides to be a part of the conversation.
There is also a need for informational transparency to encourage the policy process. Knowledge is an important dimension of power and can be an important determinate of international policy coordination. It is important for the Trump administration to increase their transparency. Furthermore, implementation and sustainability are crucial to the conflict-resolution process. Implementation is not effective if it is not sustainable. The Trump administration should pursue avenues of addressing this conflict, which yield sustainable outcomes.
Finally, international public opinion is essential to addressing this crisis. If the international actors intertwined in a crisis sense no real international support, they will be more likely to resort to more radical means to achieve freedom. Allowing the ability to achieve international support will allow civilians to be seen as individuals that need our help. International support can lead to the collection of resources urgently needed by those affected by the conflict. The Trump administration has failed to encourage sympathy towards Syrian civilians.
Policies that address the aforementioned concerns may lead to successful, sustainable, and impactful reforms in Syria. The Trump administration has been in office for more than 100 days and it is time they prioritize creating a coherent policy to help Syria.
Image Source: New York Times