What Is the U.S. Expectation about Syria?

One of the main reasons of the deadlock in Syria is difference of opinions among the actors, who want a regime change, on how to reach a solution. Considering at a discourse level and in terms of the ultimate goal, it seems that the aforesaid countries share the same opinion. The front led by the countries such as the U.S., UK, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar argue that the Assad regime lost its legitimacy in Syria; that it is not possible for this regime to rule  the country anymore; and that Bashar Assad needs to hand over the power. However, there are some differences in terms of the factors such as; the steps followed by each country on how to reach the goal, the foreign policy instruments they use, the groups they support, the quantity and quality of the support provided for the opposition. Even the countries that suggest military options are split into two groups such as; those who argue for direct military intervention, and those who argue for creation of no-fly zones in certain areas of Syria. While some countries argue for providing opposition with a great amount of arms aid on a scale that will change the regime – opposition balance in favor of the opponents; some other countries are in favor of solving the problem through political solution methods in contemplation that greater losses of life and security risks might be caused as a result of a total collapse of the regime. In addition, the countries which support the opposition prefer to provide financial and arms aid to the groups they feel closer to themselves.                   

The fact that countries which argue for a regime change in Syria cannot coordinate their policies is the leading factor that makes it possible for the Assad regime to survive. Among the aforesaid actors, the position of the U.S. becomes more of an issue when considered within the framework of military and economic resources, political and diplomatic power. Although many countries strive for a change in Syria, it is obvious that it will be so hard to make a change in the country should the U.S. doesn't take up a clear position. Considering the Syria policy of the U.S., it is seen that the U.S. approach with great caution. While some factors motivate the U.S. to put an end to the problem in Syria as soon as possible, some other factors limit its policies. However, what is concluded in terms of the U.S. is that it has not yet perceived Syria as a strategic problem sufficient enough to use all its will for change. Nevertheless, the spread of instability across the region and its directly threatening Israel's security might bring the Syria problem to a strategic dimension and lead the U.S. to pursue a more active policy. In that case, one of the various options such as; direct military intervention, heavy arms aid to opponents, or finding a political solution in cooperation with Russia might be brought into action.              

The factors restricting the U.S. on putting an end to the Syria issue might be listed as follows:

The fear of post-Assad instability and more bloody civil war: Even though Syria is currently going through a civil war, there is a possibility that an even more bloody civil war could break out between different ethnic and sectarian groups in case of a possible collapse of the regime and dissolution of the army. This argument creates a dilemma of “either me or chaos” which forms the basis of the legitimacy of the Assad regime, and leads the U.S. to act with more caution.    

Radical Islamists' growing stronger: The U.S. has recently been putting forward Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front's growing stronger as the main reason of the fact that they do not take a step on Syria issue. Al-Nusra Front, which is one of the most effective groups despite the fact that it has the least number of members within the Syrian military opposition, was declared as a terrorist organization by the U.S. on the grounds that it is related to Iraqi Al-Qaeda. The U.S. frequently use the argument that the organization will become influential in Syria in case of a collapse of the regime,.          

Dispersed structure of political and military opposition: It was frequently mentioned that the Syrian National Council which was formed in İstanbul failed in terms of factors such as representing the country, having an influence on internal opposition, and overcoming rivalry problems within the group. Afterwards, a new political opposition group called Syrian National Coalition was created under the leadership of the U.S. in Qatar. However, almost the same criticisms addressed against the Syrian National Council. The Supreme Military Council, which was declared that it was established in Antalya and which aims at gathering the military opposition under a single umbrella, has not yet achieved gathering dispersed military forces under a single command. In this respect, the U.S. asserts that there is no efficient political and military opposition that might be an alternative to the Assad regime.         

The factors which motivate the U.S. to make a change in Syria and which could turn it into a strategic problem in the forthcoming period are listed as follows:

The refugee issue is turning into a strategic threat beyond being a humanitarian issue: More than 1 million Syrian refugees have settled in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt. This figure is increasing with each passing day and the situation leads to an destabilization in the country. Also, this situation brings along major problems in humanitarian terms. Despite all aid efforts, refugees strive to survive under extremely difficult conditions. The humanitarian dimension of the problem is not enough to convince the U.S. on Syria. However, the refugee problem is increasingly becoming a strategic problem with a potential to affect the entire Middle East, and leads to regionalization of the Syria problem. Turkey can overcome the problem through its economic and political power, and the potential of refugee issue's negatively affecting Turkey's stability is limited. However, two fragile countries such as Jordan and Lebanon are having difficulties in terms of sheltering more Syrian refugees who are some half a million in each country. Jordan has almost become a country of refugees. Syrian refugees have been added to existing Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, and today the majority of population in the country is composed of refugees. In addition, in Lebanon with some 4 million population, it is estimated that more than half a million Syrian live in the country, including those who live out of refugee camps. There is a political and social structure in Lebanon based on a delicate balance between sects. The main political dynamic in the country is the Sunni – Shiite conflict. The vast majority of the Syrian refugees who migrated to Lebanon are of Sunni origin. This situation shakes the fragile balance in Lebanon at its core, and turns the country into a powder barrel. Thus, should the stability in Syria is not restored, the refugee flow will continue to the aforesaid countries, and at a certain point the instability will become regionalized in a way to negatively affect the security of Israel.                  

Chemical weapons' getting out of central control: Syrian government's statement itself indicates that there are chemical weapons in the country. Some allegations regarding that chemical weapons have been used in certain conflicts in the recent period were mentioned by both the regime and the opponents. If the conflicts in Syria continued for a longer period of time, those weapons could be used by the regime and besides some opposition forces could also possibly take possession of weapons. Furthermore, the regime might possibly provide its allies such as Hezbollah with those weapons as well. In both cases, it will pose a danger for the security of Israel. This assessment might lead the U.S. to find a solution to the Syria problem and to safely destroy the chemical weapons.   

It might be suggested in terms of the U.S. that it has not yet been persuaded to put an end to the Syria problem; that it does not consider the problem a strategic threat; and that it perceives the continuation of current balance for some time longer as an opportunity in certain aspects. Under these circumstances, the alternative policies that the U.S. might put into action in the near future might be listed as follows: To weaken “bad opposition” by supporting the “good opposition”, and to try to form the infrastructure of administration to prevent a possible post-Assad chaos environment in the regions under the control of opposition. At a later stage, declaration of no-fly zone in certain areas to protect civilians might come to forefront.

As a justification to its cautious approach, the U.S. asserts that Al-Qaeda is the group which is growing strongest among the opposition. However, while the influence of radical groups was quite limited when the uprising broke out in Syria, they increased their influence to a great extent in due course. If waited longer for a solution in Syria, the radical groups in country will be observed to grow much stronger.