March 17, 2019


No One Wants to Help Bashar al-Assad Rebuild Syria (KRISHNADEV CALAMUR, 3/17/19, Defense One)

The United Nations estimates the cost of reconstruction at $250 billion (about four times Syria's prewar GDP, or roughly the size of Egypt's economy). Russia wants the West to pay up; its military support is essential to the Assad regime's survival, but it has its own economic constraints. However, the United States and its Western allies have adamantly refused, absent meaningful political changes. There would be "no reconstruction without [a] political transition," a French embassy spokeswoman recently told me. Last fall, Nikki Haley, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, dismissed as "absurd" Russia's push for Western support. That leaves 18 million people, about a third of whom are refugees, facing an uncertain future in a country that's far worse off now than it was when the conflict began. Reconstruction remains essential despite Donald Trump's withdrawal of most U.S. troops, signaling Washington's little appetite for further engagement in Syria.

Theoretically, a successful reconstruction effort could see millions of displaced Syrians returning home. (Of course, the problem of security inside Syria would remain.) But as long as parts of the country remain unlivable, the refugee crisis that has gripped Europe for the past few years risks exacerbation, potentially subjecting many more generations of Syrians to living in refugee camps at the mercy of often unfriendly host countries.

Russia, which intervened in the conflict in 2015 and is keen to preserve its newfound regional influence, can't take on the cost of reconstruction. Its economy is in tatters, made worse by sanctions imposed following its invasion of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and its interference in the 2016 U.S. elections; the threat of further punitive measures over its seizure in November of Ukrainian vessels near the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, which both countries share under a 2003 treaty; and low oil prices.  But Moscow has tried, with no success, to get the international community to pay.

The U.S. and Europe have made reforms, including a political transition, a precondition for any role in reconstruction. They are also banking on the fact that Assad's main backers, both internal and external, will realize that ongoing support for him will keep the purse strings closed.

And he crushed ISIS without the loss of a single American soldier.

Posted by at March 17, 2019 11:07 AM