Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The "Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act" passed Friday in the Senate.
The legislation holds the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its supporters accountable "for their egregious human rights and crimes against humanity." As the bill is put into action, the United States should accept new realities in the region. In his State of the Union address, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he adheres to realism. Adhering to realism means that the United States should acknowledge that it is no longer omnipotent in the Middle East.
Former President Barack Obama rolled back American leadership in the Middle East. When he had the chance to hit Assad in 2013, he bowed to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had rolled out the red carpet for the Russians to come and have a presence in the Middle East.
The Trump administration cannot reverse this reality. It has to deal with it. The United States needs to accept sharing influence with the Russians in the Middle East. Ignoring the Russian influence will not advance stability. Regardless of the controversy around the Trump-Putin bromance, or the allegations that the Russians tried to influence elections, or the accusation that Trump might have business interests in Russia, the United States should be pragmatic.
It is clear that the United States needs to reach a deal with Russia in order to achieve stability in Syria. It is also clear that stability cannot be achieved with Assad rule. Assad thrives on sectarianism and divisions. He tries to walk a fine line between Iranian and Russian interests in Syria. Iran and Russia have diverging interests in Syria. Iran has an ideological agenda while Russia is in for influence and economic gain. Assad has not been an easy ally to deal with for Russia. He is becoming an increasingly expensive client for Russia.
Though the Russians understand there is no real stability with Assad, he is a card they can negotiate on. Assad tries to please his two main patrons, but his ultimate loyalty is tor Iranians. The divergence between the Russians and Iranians is starting to materialize into armed conflicts. On Jan. 19, clashes erupted in Hama between Col. Soheil Hassan of the Fifth Corps closely associated with the Russian military and Maher al-Assad, the brother of Bashar al-Assad, of the Fourth division, linked to the IRGC. The Russians understand that Assad cannot be trusted, this is why they are entrenching themselves with the Syrian military. This is the right time to strike a deal with the Russians.
In order to close a deal, it is important to understand the deep mistrust that Russia has with the West and the United States. In the wake of the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the Russians were expecting to experience prosperity and growth. However, they feel that the West only gave them sweet lies and false promises. This is why the deal should give Russia real assurances that its interests will be preserved. Also given the prevailing mistrust, the Russians should be given assurances that the deal will not be revoked.
Now, that the United States is withdrawing from Syria, Arab countries are reluctant to send forces to fill the vacuum. On the contrary, they are set to normalize with Assad. They have restored diplomatic relations with him and are preparing to retake him into the Arab league. This will embolden Assad and make him even a more difficult client for Moscow to handle. At the same time, due to American sanctions, Arab states and companies will not invest in Syria under Assad's rule. So, Russia will not even benefit economically from the Arab overture.
This is why it is a critical time to act, especially in the light of the looming confrontation between Iran and Israel. Tactically, Israel has succeeded, for now, in crippling Iranian military facilities. Iran has threatened to retaliate. The last thing the region needs is an open confrontation between Iran and Israel. And the last thing Moscow wants is for its military to be caught up in the middle. Russia is urging Israel to stop its bombing while being unable to control Iranian forces. For this reason, it is the right time for the United States to step in and strike a deal with Moscow.
Dania Koleilat Khatib is an affiliated scholar at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. She specializes in U.S.-Arab relations and researches sectarianism, extremism and governance. Her book "The Arab Lobby and the U.S.: Factors for Success and Failure" was published by Routledge UK and translated to Arabic.