Uncharacteristically, it is the Congress that is asking for more, as 400 members signed a bipartisan letter last week urging President Donald Trump to increase US engagement in the Syrian crisis. The lawmakers’ message to the president reflects their concern about the war there, despite eight years of conflict, and the failure of attempts to change the regime in Damascus.
The signatories say that the conflict in Syria is complex, potential solutions are not perfect, and there is no choice but to develop policies that would stop the growing threats to US interests, which is a strategy that requires US leadership.
Syria, which neither boasts abundant oil nor possesses strategic weapons, is today the scene of multiple conflicts, both regional and international. The goals of Washington, as identified by the lawmakers, are: Eliminating terrorist organizations, stopping Iran’s penetration of Syria and its destabilizing activities in the region, enhancing Israel’s superiority, protecting US allies, and weakening the Russian military role there.
In their letter, the lawmakers call on the US to play a key role in the Syrian conflict, which goes against the former desire of the president to withdraw troops and reduce the US role.
The letter says: “Dear Mr. President: At a time of grave insecurity in the Middle East, we are deeply concerned about the role that terrorist and extremist groups as well as US adversaries continue to play, particularly, in Syria.
As some of our closest allies in the region are being threatened, American leadership and support are as crucial as ever”. It adds “Pockets of ungoverned space have allowed terrorist groups, such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates, to keep parts of Syria in their stranglehold. These groups’ ability to recruit, propagandize, and grow is alarming. Though their main purpose now may be to fight inside Syria, they retain the ability and will to plan and implement attacks against Western targets, our allies and partners, and the US homeland. The United States has an interest in preventing these terrorist organizations from solidifying their foothold in the Middle East.”
The letter goes on, stressing that: “The region has also been destabilized by the Iranian regime’s threatening behavior. In Syria, Iran is working to establish a permanent military presence that can threaten our allies.”
Furthermore, the lawmakers who signed the letter believe that Russia is working to secure a permanent presence in Syria, outside its existing naval facility in Tartus, and that it has changed the perimeters of the civil war to ensure the survival of the Assad regime. The signatories doubt Russia’s intentions, and accuse it of complementing Iran’s role.
In addition to Hezbollah’s role in the massacres committed in Syria, the US lawmakers see that the group “now poses a more potent threat to Israel as well.” They believe that Hezbollah is playing the role of an advanced military battalion serving the interests of the Iranians by putting pressure on Israel and obtaining the concessions demanded by Tehran.
The demands of the lawmakers seem more belligerent than those of the White House and the State Department. This is reflected in their letter, in which they called on Trump to implement a strategy that includes the following elements:
• Increase the pressure on Iran and Russia in Syria in order to restrict their destabilizing activities.
• Emphasize the old US policy of supporting Israel’s capability and qualitative military superiority in the context of the current 10-year Memorandum of Understanding.
• Continue economic and diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from supporting Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, as well as standing up to Russia’s support for Bashar Assad’s brutal regime. They also “encourage full implementation of sanctions authorized in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.”
• Increase the pressure on Hezbollah by forcefully and fully implementing the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018, and other sanctions aimed at Hezbollah and those who fund it. In addition, they called on the president to continue to press the UN Interim Force in Lebanon to carry out its UN Security Council mandate, including investigating and reporting the presence of arms and tunnels on Israel’s border.
The importance of this letter lies in its timing. It also shows that a large group of politicians and lawmakers support confrontation and are willing to give Trump a significant margin of movement in the region; unlike what some Arab political analysts believe, which is that Washington desires to withdraw.
It is true that the letter from the Congress members does not call for confronting Iran militarily in the current crisis, but it clearly urges more work in Syria, the arena of the current confrontation between the two sides.