After years of policy stubbornly pushing regime change and pundits claiming Daesh would never fall without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s removal, Washington appears to be slowly warming to the fact that Assad will remain in power, at least until the next Syrian elections in 2021.
The New Yorker reported Monday that US President Donald Trump’s administration was prepared “to accept President Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule until Syria’s next scheduled presidential election, in 2021,” citing US and European officials.
Former US Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford told Sputnik Radio’s Loud & Clear on Tuesday, “I would look at the fine print. They have come close to saying this before, but there’s always a rider. Like, they say, yeah, Assad can stay ‘for now’ or ‘at this stage’ or ‘until 2021.’ I suspect this leak is actually not such a major step.”
Nevertheless, “they’ve made one little step back into reality that the rest of the world has known for a long time: that Assad is not going anywhere,” Ford noted.
“CNN’s Michael Weiss pushed the line that Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin would not fight the Islamic State [Daesh] and that Syria and Russia were the group’s ‘unacknowledged air force.’ His co-author, Hassan Hassan, contended that the Syrian regime must go because ‘Assad has never fought [Daesh] before’… these popular arguments were, to put it mildly, empirically challenged,” the Council on Foreign Relation’s Max Abrahms and Cato Institute’s John Glaser wrote in a December 10 Los Angeles Times column.
Similarly, regime change proponents, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, wrote in an October 2014 column for the Wall Street Journal that airstrikes and other military actions “are beginning to degrade the terror group, known as ISIS [Daesh], but will not destroy it, for one reason above all: The administration still has no effective policy to remove Bashar al-Assad from power and end the conflict in Syria.”
These predictions were not only wildly off the mark, judging by empirical data — which has seen Daesh decimated by the Syrian army and Iranian and Hezbollah militias, with both Russian and US support, while Assad has stayed in power — but virtually no pundits or senators any longer continue to state that it was indeed possible to eliminate Daesh without removing the Syrian president.
“They’re not itching to atone for having almost forced another regime-change mission based on discredited analysis,” which, “as in Iraq a decade earlier… would have created the ultimate power vacuum for [Daesh] to flourish,” Abrahms and Glaser said.
Despite multiple indications the US is taking its foot off the gas in Syria, such as their decision to stop arming “moderate” rebels, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the New Yorker report was “off the mark” on Tuesday.
Washington is “committed to the Geneva process” and the US believes “the future of Syria will not include Bashar al-Assad, but that is ultimately up to the Syrian power and the Syrian voters to decide,” Nauert said.