Below are the openingremarks delivered by Citizens for a Secure and Safe America’s President Dr. Muhamad Bakr Ghbeis during C4SSA’s Semi-Annual Conference which took place over the course of three days on December 9, 10, 11, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Also included are key points and takeaways from presentations made by U.S. Members of Congress.
Today and tomorrow, we will tackle, as best we can, the question of what role the United States of America can best play to help bring peace to Syria and its long-suffering people. It is right that this discussion will take place in our nation’s Capitol Building; a place where our elected representatives have debated and decided the great issues of foreign and domestic policy for over 200 years. Even if we prove unable to answer the question before us it is important, I think, to give our representatives in Congress and our fellow American people some practical ideas and suggestions to consider regarding our foreign policy on Syria.
In the 10 years during which Syrians have been terrorized by their government and by other extremists promoted by that government, the United States has struggled to define its response and to implement effective policies. On one thing there has been consensus: American taxpayers, through their representatives in Congress, have been consistently generous in addressing the humanitarian needs of Syrians victimized by the regime and its fellow terrorists. For this, we are eternally grateful.
Ten years ago, the US directed Bashar al-Assad to step aside as Syria’s president, and later warned Assad of the potentially deadly consequences of using chemical weapons. As we meet today, however, Assad is still in his seat. The way forward to secure his removal and the national security interests of the United States and its allies is not clear.
There has also existed in three American administrations a consensus that there will be no reestablishment of diplomatic business-as-usual with a regime steeped in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The consistent position of the United States is that Bashar al-Assad, his enablers, and their Al Qaeda and ISIS collaborators in Syria’s destruction should face full accountability for their crimes. Pending full accountability, they will be subject to sanctions limiting their ability to use funds they have stolen from the Syrian people in countries enjoying rule of law.
Ten years after the beginning of Syria’s journey through hell, I can think of a number of reasons why our country should remain engaged at all levels and should arrive at consensus on more effective policies. Let me quickly go through them:
- International order and legitimacy. The United States was the driving force behind the 2012 Geneva Final Communique and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. These documents, representing the will of the international community, mandate political reconciliation and transition to representative, inclusive governance in Syria, and I’d like to emphasize, without Assad. This is the only way forward.
- National credibility. Nothing that happens in Syria stays in Syria. Russia and Iran have used our performance in Syria to measure our firmness elsewhere.
- Upholding justice and accountability. Without energetic American involvement in demanding full accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, authoritarian regimes around the world will continue to enjoy global disorder.
- Keeping ISIS dead. Our government estimates that some 10,000 terrorists are still at large, trying to mount a comeback via insurgency. ISIS is not only an enabler of the Assad regime’s survival strategy. It has conducted deadly operations in Turkey, France, and Belgium. It remains a transnational terror threat to us and our allies.
- Stabilizing the northeast. As part of the long and lasting defeat of ISIS, we have a residual responsibility to help those liberated from the fake caliphate to restore their lives and govern themselves. We have not yet fulfilled this responsibility. Our decision to rely on a militia to wage the ground war against ISIS unintentionally but eventually produced many civilian deaths and considerable property damage. Victory over ISIS cannot be sealed without stabilizing the liberated areas and winning the loyalty of the overwhelmingly Arab local population.
- Preserving leverage. The abandonment of northeastern Syria and the base at Tanf would liquidate, free of charge, the sole existing leverage the United States has on the prospect for political change in Syria.
- Preventing Iranian domination. An American abandonment of Syria would be an acceptance of Iranian dominance in the middle east. It would confirm the impression of regional allies and partners that the U.S. is abandoning not only Syria, but the region.
- Working with Turkey. American-Turkish relations all too often reflect something other than trust and confidence between two NATO allies. Syria ought to be a place where Ankara and Washington can work in tandem to achieve the long-term goal of a unified Syrian state posing no threat to any of its neighbors.
As Americans we want our government to stand firmly against Assad and Iran. Even with Russian support, these are not superpowers. Indeed, they are pathetic in their moral corruption and their governing incompetence. If we stay the course by aiding and protecting innocent civilians as best we can, by keeping ISIS dead, by holding Assad accountable and refusing to normalize with him, and by making Iran pay dearly for its aggression, we can give the UN Special Envoy for Syria some real leverage as he seeks political compromise and transition from state terror to something civilized: a Syria at peace with itself and all its neighbors; a Syria posing no threats to the United States, or to American allies and partners; a Syria with a national government worthy of the Syrian people.
Let this be our theme as we discuss Syria and the role to be played by our country during our time together here in Washington.