Potential scenarios following an American withdrawal from Syria

Potential scenarios following an American withdrawal from Syria
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There was a state of panic among Syrians, particularly among those east of the Euphrates in northern Syria, as a result of Trump’s sudden decision in December 2018, to immediately withdraw troops from Syria. 


The announcement left many question marks about the timing and aim of the decision, as well as its effects on the Syrian crisis, particularly in light of the absence of any real political breakthrough on the horizon, as well as internal and external dynamics. Therefore, we can say that we will likely be faced with one of several possible scenarios. 


The first scenario is a Turkish invasion, supported by local aligned Syrian militias. The humanitarian toll of this scenario will be catastrophic, as we can only imagine the scale of the displacement of civilians, especially among Kurds, and the photographs of bodies, ransacked buildings, and cultural and social destruction. Turkish officials have expressed a racist animus toward the Kurds and their fighters, and Turkey taking over nearly half the territory of Syria would be useful; giving it a strong edge at the negotiating table with Russia and Iran. And without a physical presence on the ground, I do not think the parties will accept a prior agreement to return the territories to the regime (or other arrangements among the Astana allies).


The second scenario is the handing over of the area to the Syrian regime. This would have a reduced human cost, since it will be part of an agreement. But we will still witness an exodus of people fleeing regime control as well as retaliations and arrests, especially in Deir al-Zour and Raqqa. The Iranian militias operate only under the umbrella of the Syrian regime; a tactic that has been followed from the beginning of the war. This in turn increases the negotiating power of the Iranians and will bring us back to square one, with the chances of the regime accepting any compromise reduced to zero.


The third scenario is that the Russian Federation will achieve an agreement somewhat similar to the Daraa agreement. In fact, it is the best scenario on the human level, with its ability to control the violations of the Iranian militias and the regime forces. The political implications of this scenario will be worse, particularly for the opposition, although it is certain to lead to a political breakthrough (especially at the level of the constitutional process). But it will result in a unilateral vision of the solution, namely a Russian vision, due to the unequal balance of powers. This of course will not satisfy anyone, even Iranians and Turks, which means there will only be temporary stability.


The fourth scenario is the entry of Arab forces (Emirati and Saudi) or international forces to separate the Turks and their forces. But both possibilities are unlikely. 


The fifth scenario is the best for the resolution of the situation on the human level, and also in terms of maintaining the balance of power and the political process.  Namely, an international alliance (particularly among France, Germany and Britain) to fill the American vacuum until completion of the political transition. This scenario would mean some bloodshed. But it may restore the balance of negotiation, provided it is supported by the US. We may also see a major political breakthrough that achieves longer stability, especially if the European presence on the ground is linked to the European Union’s economic sanctions related to reconstruction as well as its sanctions on Russia, the EU’s nuclear agreement with Iran, and US sanctions on the latter.


The sixth scenario is the most dangerous. It would involve a struggle among all involved countries and an inability to find agreement — particularly given the surprise announcement of the US decision in 2018, and the fact that there is no strategy for what comes after the withdrawal under the current US administration.


All of these scenarios may be right or wrong, but the US withdrawal has unavoidable consequences: increasing the suffering of the Syrian people, deepening the divisions among the Syrian factions, and exacerbating gaps that will allow Damascus and other entities to emerge, strengthen, and upset the balance of political power. The most important result of the US decision is the failure of American leadership in the Middle East, including its ability to destroy and dismantle societies without helping them to restore stability.


In the end, the saddest thing is that we, the Syrian people — and especially those of the eastern region — have not yet had the freedom to choose our representatives. We have always had to find mechanisms to adapt to the fait accompli, without having a role in the choices that were made. We react, but within very limited options.




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