- Ammar Abdallah/Reuters
- The US has a plan to kick Syria’s Assad out of power by treating the country like North Korea.
- Syria probably needs $200-300 billion in reconstruction after a civil war and protracted fight against ISIS, but the US says Assad won’t see a dime until he holds elections.
- Assad has been linked to war crimes, gross human rights violations, and chemical weapons use, and the US wants to see him brought to justice at the Hague, rather than killed.
After seven long years of bloody civil war, the US just laid out a strategy to have Syrian President Bashar Assad removed from power by essentially treating the country like North Korea.
Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, David Statterfield, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, described how the US would remove Assad from power without using its military might.
“Syria needs reconstruction funds of between $200-300 billion plus. The international has community has committed itself not to provide those funds” until Syria holds UN-observed, fair elections and reforms its constitution, Statterfield said.
“We cannot conceive of circumstance in which a genuinely fair electoral process overseen by the UN with participation of the Syrian displaced community could lead to a result in which Assad remained at the helm,” he said.
The US has about 2,000 boots on the ground in Syria, air bases in nearby countries, and has cycled through a few aircraft carriers to destroy ISIS and push them out of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has now lost almost all of its territory, and large swaths of Syria are held by US-backed forces that don’t support Assad. Assad himself lacks control of the eastern part of his country, where most of the oil lies.
Assad, an accused war criminal who the US has punished with cruise missile strikes in response to chemical weapons attacks on civilians, is no friend to the US, and the US won’t simply give his country back.
Syria needs cash and the US ain’t buying
- Bassam Diab/UNHCR/Handout via REUTERS
With US forces holding the purse strings and oil fields in Syria, the US intends to make Syria an international pariah state much like North Korea.
“The US has provided nearly 7.5 billion in humanitarian assistance” to Syria since the beginning of the war, Statterfield said.
But “unlike in Iraq, we do not have a trusted government partner to work with” in Syria, he said. “We are not working with, and we will not work with the Assad regime.”
Much of Syria has been reduced to rubble, as Russia and Syria have bombed the country’s western coastline to kill rebels and the US has combed through the eastern stretches to knock out ISIS. Air forces often target roads, bridges, and important infrastructure to hobble the flow of enemy fighters on the ground.
While Russia has the planes and bombs to continue airstrikes, Statterfield said the US is willing to bet it doesn’t have the cash to rebuild it by itself.
Furthermore, Russia committed to a political solution to the Syrian civil war in November. Statterfield characterized Russia as trying to steer the solution towards leaving Assad in power. With a concerted effort led by the US at the UN, he said, the international community can deny Syria’s government the funding it would need to remain.
Assad becomes Kim Jong Un, cut off and clinging to power
Under the US plan, Syria won’t see a dime of reconstruction money until they put together a fair election. Assad, who has never faced a real opponent in a fair election, and who has spent the last five or so years reportedly gassing his own people with airstrikes, is unlikely to win such an election, according to Statterfield.
Statterfield was realistic and admitted the process would be extremely difficult, noting “Assad will cling to power at almost any cost.”
The other prong of US strategy in Syria, limiting Iran’s influence, will be dealt with separately, according to Statterfield.
But the US has now outlined a credible strategy to undermine Russia and Iran’s wish to keep Assad, who experts say drives radicalization and terrorism with his brutal military campaign against rebels, in power.