The West Has Little Leverage and Little to Gain By Sam Heller
October 4, 2014
Now that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has successfully defeated or neutralized much of the insurgency in his country, domestic and international attention has begun to turn toward stabilization and reconstruction. It is now possible to envision a postwar Syria, at least in parts of the country.
Yet large sections of the international community—including, critically, key donor countries—continue to reject the legitimacy of Assad and his regime. The United States and its allies have given up on their proxy war in Syria, with which they had pushed for Assad’s negotiated removal from power. But now reconstruction seems like the next battle to shape Syria’s political order.
For backers of the Syrian opposition, reconstruction funds are one of their last remaining tools to pressure the Assad regime. Experts are now proposing convoluted schemes for how the West can rebuild Syria in spite of Assad or how it can condition its reconstruction money on political concessions from the regime.
There is a less complicated solution: Do not fund the reconstruction of Assad’s Syria.
In a high-profile speech in August, Assad warned his adversaries that they would not negotiate their way to victory. “We won’t let enemies, adversaries, and terrorists, through any means, accomplish through politics what they failed to accomplish on the battlefield and through terrorism,” he said.
The West should take Assad at his word. Syria’s reconstruction cannot be dictated or meaningfully shaped by Western donors—at least not to any satisfactory political ends. There are limited humanitarian arguments for investing in reconstruction. But in political terms, the West does not have a role to play.