JERUSALEM — The efforts of some key members of the Arab League this month to restore membership to the Syrian regime after its 2011 suspension over its mass killing of civilians has shined a new spotlight on the Biden administration’s Middle East policy, according to regional experts.
Syria’s dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, has waged a scorched-earth campaign against civilians and pro-democracy activists, resulting in an estimated 500,000-plus deaths and the use of chemical warfare to wipe out anti-regime Syrians.
“Today, Biden’s mismanagement of Arab relationships manifests itself in the dam breaking on normalization with Assad. As for Assad, normalization comes now because of the sense that he won the civil war. The problem is that it is coming cost-free for the Syrian regime,” Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert for the American Enterprise Institute, told Fox News Digital.
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Rubin said, “Rather than bargain or impose for normalization, Biden is politically and diplomatically” absent.
Rubin added that “Earlier Arab demands with regard to reforms and justice have fallen by the wayside. Biden’s maniacal bashing of Saudi Arabia over the murder of one former intelligence agent now comes at the expense of denying justice for millions of Syrians.”
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital, “Our position is clear: We will not normalize relations with the Assad regime absent authentic progress towards a political solution to the underlying conflict. We continue to make this clear publicly and privately with partners.”
Last week, the North African country Tunisia restored diplomatic relations with Syria. Saudi Arabia is leading the push among the Arab League members to bring Syria’s regime in from the cold. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) restored diplomatic ties with Assad in 2018. The Syrian dictator visited Oman and the UAE this year in a thawing of relations with a country once viewed as an international pariah in the Arab world.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, the Lebanese terrorist movement Hezbollah, and Russia together provided the shock troops and military machinery that stopped the toppling of al-Assad’s regime. Critics of the rapprochement between Arab countries and Syria’s regime see a benefit for Iran to secure more influence and power in a volatile region.
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The State Department spokesperson said, “Many Arab capitals have expressed a view that it’s in their own interests as Arab states to return an Arab presence to Damascus and not to leave a vacuum for Iran to fill. We have stressed to regional partners engaging with the Syrian regime that credible steps to improve the humanitarian and security situation for Syrians should be front and center in any engagement, while also making clear that the core architecture of our sanctions remains firmly in place.”
Emad Bouzo, a Syrian-American physician and political commentator on Syria, told Fox News Digital, “The current soft Arab policies towards the Iranian and the Syrian regimes may strengthen Iran in the short term, but it will not help it in the long term because of its corrupt and failed internal policies and the continued unrest inside of Iran.
He added, “Most Arab countries don’t value the demands of the Syrian people for democracy as these countries themselves are undemocratic, and, therefore, most of these countries try to distance themselves from the Western, democratic governments and their concepts for the respect of human rights.”
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari told the London-based Qatari daily newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi in late March that “at this stage, there is no Arab consensus to normalize [relations] with the regime.” He added, “Signs do not point to any development in the Syrian arena. … Doha’s position is clear, stable and unaffected by [outside] responses, unless there is development within the Syrian arena.” The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) translated Al-Ansari’s comments to the paper.
According to human rights groups, al-Assad’s campaign to purge his country of opposition has created the worst international humanitarian crisis of this century.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) notes on its website that there are 6.8 million internally displaced people in Syria and 5.5 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, and 15.3 million people are “in need of humanitarian and protection assistance in Syria,” the UNHCR wrote.
The U.S. State Department spokesperson said, “While the situation in Syria remains complex, this approach has been successful. Fewer Syrians have lost their lives over the last two years than at any point throughout the civil war. We have taken ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] leaders, including two of its top leaders, off the battlefield. Humanitarian aid has continued to flow, including thanks to successful renewals of U.N. cross-border aid to the northwest.”
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Rubin said, “Biden lost the Syria recognition battle, but his team is also blind to what comes next: Will the Arab bloc oppose the United States and green light the U.N. channeling reconstruction funds though Assad’s hands? In essence, will the international community, including the U.S. indirectly through its support of the U.N., allow Assad to profit from murder to the tune of billions of dollars?”
If Saudi Arabia succeeds in reintegrating Syria into the Arab League at the next meeting in May, it will be a severe setback for the U.S. and the EU in connection with their sanctions on Damascus.
Rubin said, “There is an ironic tragedy to Biden. He entered office speaking about human rights, but the naivete, arrogance and stupidity of his top advisers have ensured his legacy will be that he has been the greatest disaster for human rights since Henry Kissinger. First, it was tens of thousands of Afghans who put their faith in and service with us but for whom Secretary of State Antony Blinken couldn’t be bothered to expedite visas. Then there were the millions of Afghan women. The cost for Climate Envoy John Kerry’s pursuit of China’s signature of virtue-signaling climate change declarations is turning a blind eye to Uyghur genocide.”
Al-Assad’s alliance with American leading enemies – ranging from Iran’s regime to Russia to Hezbollah – has prompted criticism of an allegedly aloof Biden administration.
Israeli Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen, a former commander of the Israel Defense Forces Northern Corps and a resident of the Golan Heights near the Syrian border, told Fox News Digital, “All the players in the Middle East recognize the weakness of the American presence in the region. The American strategy, as expressed in the National Security Strategy document of the White House, established a new order of priorities. In the first place, dealing with the competition with China in the Far East and across the Pacific Ocean; in the second place is Russia, where the U.S. expects NATO and European countries to lead the fight against Russia with direct and indirect aid to Ukraine.”
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Hacohen, a member of Israel Defense and Security Forum, added, “The Middle East was hardly even mentioned except for the administration’s support of the two-state solution. The move by Saudi Arabia to renew relations with Iran caused the significant regional turn, including the renewal of relations with Syria and negotiations with the Houthis in Yemen and the terrorist organization Hamas. When it comes to existential strategic interests, nobody really cares if Assad murdered half a million civilians. That has long since been forgotten.”
For Israel, America’s most important regional ally, Hacohen mapped out a gloomy future: “The bottom line is that the state of Israel finds itself isolated like it has not been for decades, and this in itself accelerates the processes of joining regional alliances against Israel.”
The U.S. State Department spokesperson countered by saying, “We have focused on stabilizing the situation in Syria with a proactive policy to maintain ceasefires, ensure ISIS cannot resurge, keep threats away from Israel and expand humanitarian access, all while pursuing accountability measures.”
Joel Rubin, a former deputy assistant secretary of state who served in the Obama and Bush administrations, told Fox News Digital that “Syria is being slowly brought back into the fold in the Middle East, but it doesn’t deserve this treatment as Assad has done precious little to earn greater ties in the region.”
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Rubin, who is not related to Michael Rubin, added, “What happens next from an American perspective is incredibly important. As the U.S. continues to reboot our presence in the region after having finally left both Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomacy is becoming the most powerful tool in our arsenal.”
Rubin continued, “The region, and the American people, rejected heavy American military operations there. Now that this is happening, the region right now is full of both diplomatic uncertainty and dynamism, with relations among the countries taking new form every day. This means that the U.S. must lean in more aggressively diplomatically with our allies to find new, creative ways to pressure our adversaries, such as Assad, so that any further rehabilitation of this tyrant will not be cost-free.”