The International Crisis Group has published a report on Syria’s changing foreign policy. It’s conclusion: now is the time for the US to engage.
First, a note on the ICG. The ICG has always been relatively friendly towards Syria, and this latest report is no different. Indeed, it’s Middle East Programme Director, Robert Malley is half-Syrian, and was advising Barack Obama during his election campaign. It all got a bit messy when fans of Israeli apartheid accused Malley – and therefore Obama – of being under Syria’s paw. A ridiculous allegation, but one which led to Obama distancing himself from Malley.
On to the report, and the ICG says Syria’s foreign policy involves a curious mix of pragmatism (calling for negotiations with Israel and closer ties with the US) and militancy (support for the Lebanese Resistance and Hamas).
The problem is that the West is making unreasonable demands – Syria should cut its ties with Hizbollah or Iran – before it gets anything in return.
Domestically, the government is secure, although the economy is an area they need to focus on. There is also the long-standing threat from Islamists.
Now is the time for the US to get involved: Syria and America have shared goals in Iraq and Yemen. On Lebanon and Palestine too, there are areas where the two countries should work together. In Lebanon it’s in everyone’s interests to focus on good governance. And both the US and Syria want Fateh and Hamas to reconcile.
At the moment, though, both sides are hesitant: “The U.S. is looking for evidence that, at the end of the day, Syria is prepared to cooperate on regional issues”, says Robert Malley. “But so too is Syria – in its case, for proof that the risks it takes will be offset by the gains it makes.”