America Shouldn’t Reward Bashar al-Assad’s Brutality with Financial and Diplomatic Support

August 28, 2018 | Frederic Hof
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In a recent essay in the New York Times, the former president Jimmy Carter urged the U.S. and its European allies to accept the Assad regime’s victory in Syria, begin reopening embassies and restoring diplomatic relations, and devote resources to the country’s “reconstruction.” Washington, Carter adds, should also begin the withdrawal of its troops so that the Syrian dictator can more easily restore his control over the rest of the country. To Frederic Hof, these suggestions are both imprudent and repugnant:

The argument presented by the former president hinges on something he must know will not happen: “the Syrian government must accept the inevitability of reforms and implement confidence-building measures, including the release of detainees and accountability for their treatment.” Asking the Assad regime to reform and build confidence is like counseling a shark to go vegan. And accountability for the torture chambers and the mass murder conducted therein would require Assad and his jailers to present themselves for trial in The Hague. Clearly this will not happen. . . . Indeed, the essay’s author does not even require the release of detainees and accountability as first steps. . . .

There is a school of thought in the American intelligence community that an embassy in Damascus might have enabled cooperation with the Assad regime against Islamic State. Yet Assad’s policy from the beginning of the uprising has been to promote extremist reactions to his misrule in order to dilute and discredit the opposition to him. . . .

[Moreover], who will require that . . . the violently corrupt Assad clan and its entourage will enact reforms, even measures watered-down in advance by a credulous, crawling West? Does one truly expect those who have waged a war of mass homicide against civilians over the past seven-plus years will shift into a reformist mode so that embassies can reopen? . . .

Iran—not mentioned in [Carter’s] essay—can provide near-term financial sustenance to its [Syrian] client, as can Russia. This is not a job for Western taxpayers. . . . [T]o lavish resources and international legitimacy on a regime whose human-rights performance contradicts everything Carter [ostensibly] stands for would only prolong Syria’s agony and do so at the expense of Western taxpayers.

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