US Impedes Efforts to Reconstruct War-Ravaged Syria

Peter Korzun — Strategic Review Oct 19, 2018

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The US is officially the largest donor in the world, but does it really care about those who suffer? Not so much. The administration believes nothing should be done unless it is in pursuit of political goals. International humanitarian aid has been cut recently.  In August, the US pulled out of its role in Syria’s short-term reconstruction, suspending $230 million of relief funds.

The American foreign-assistance policy is going through drastic changes. “The United States is the world’s largest giver in the world, by far, of foreign aid. But few give anything to us,” President Trump said, addressing the UN General Assembly to announce a major review process to reform the decision-making on the allocation of foreign-aid money. “Moving forward, we are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends,” the president explained.

So, foreign aid is only going to friends, and friends are those who do what they are told. The No Assistance for Assad Act has passed the House and is currently before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That legislation would ensure that no US money is spent on reconstruction in government-controlled Syrian territory, either directly or through the UN, IMF, or other international bodies.

And that’s not all. The president did not provide all the details. The new policy anticipates the creation of obstacles that will impede the reconstruction efforts that are aimed at easing the suffering of people living in war-ravaged countries such as Syria. No good deed goes unpunished.

According to UN estimates, the war in Syria has cost $388 billion. Most Western companies are steering clear of that country. Any non-US company is taking a huge risk if its transaction involves Americans or an American company. Iran has been under sanctions for many years. Syrians are looking at Russia with hope while the US is doing its best to deprive them of much-needed assistance.

According to NBC News, the new administration’s strategy for the war in Syria is focused more on pushing Iran and its allies out of the country. On October 16, the US Department of the Treasury took action against 20 Iranian businesses providing a financial lifeline to the Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary force that answers to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).  The second wave of anti-Iranian sanctions will take effect on Nov.4 and will deal a blow to the country’s oil exports.

According to the new plan, the use of arms in self-defense against Iranians is permitted but priority is given to impeding reconstruction efforts in the areas of Syria where Iranian and Russian forces are present. Sanctions will be imposed on Russian and Iranian companies working on reconstruction projects. The US military will remain in Syria as long as the administration wants them to, under the pretext that, even if ISIS is completely eliminated, the danger of small pockets of resistance popping up will remain.

Actually, this means that the forces can stay forever. The imaginary threat of an ISIS that in reality has been routed is needed because the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) covers only the groups implicated in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, plus their associates. By no stretch of the imagination could Iran be included on this list, unlike ISIS, which grew out of al-Qaeda. However, National Security Adviser John Bolton explained last month that US troops would stay “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.”

So, ordinary Syrians will suffer because the US does not like Iran. Refugees will not return home, thus aggravating the migration headaches for an EU that is already on the brink of dissolution. It will make Brussels more amenable to US demands, be those tariffs, gas deals, the policy on Russia, NATO expenditures, or whatever.

The announcement of a joint Russian-Turkish demilitarization zone in Idlib will push the issue of Syria’s reconstruction front and center.  If China tries to contribute, it’ll come under American sanctions as well for dealing with “Assad-allied governments and financial institutions.” Despite that,   a Chinese container ship docked on October 9 at Lebanon’s Tripoli seaport, inaugurating a Chinese-developed shipping line between Beijing and a port less than 30 km (18.5 miles) from the Syrian-Lebanese border. On October 10, China held a ceremony in Latakia, a major Syrian port, announcing its donation of 800 electrical power generators. The reconstruction of Syria’s oil facilities is underway with Russia’s help.

One might not like or support Assad’s government, but millions of Syrians cannot be left without outside aid, otherwise, extremists will take advantage of the situation and we’ll see ISIS or some other extremist group take root and grow strong enough to pose a global threat. The restoration of Syria is the best way to fight terrorists — the threat the US makes a show of being so concerned about.  By impeding this process, it is shooting itself in the foot. The EU’s hopes of seeing a letup in its migration problem will be dashed. Contributing to Syria’s restoration means contributing to the solution of Europe’s most pressing problem.    The reconstruction of Syria should be depoliticized. This is the time for all international partners to join together to assist in the Syrian recovery effort.

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