As the Biden administration seizes the reins of US foreign policy, it inherits myriad conflicts in multiple countries across the world. In many, the US itself is a party. Biden and his team must develop a comprehensive policy toward each focused on building security and stability.
So, for the latest installment of our “After the Apocalypse” series — a set of policy recommendations to help guide us out of a time that has frequently felt like the end of the world — Inkstick asked Bassam Alahmad, Annelle Sheline, and Adam Weinstein for their rapid-fire recommendations for the Biden administration on three of the most significant, and catastrophic, conflicts raging today: Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Read their recommendations below.
- Truth and Inclusivity: Our goal is to build a country on the foundation of equality, whether on the basis of ethnicity, gender, or religion. Enshrining the values of inclusivity and equality in Syria’s peace-building process is the first step to making that goal a reality. The Biden administration must take the perspectives and insights of all the victims of the Syrian conflict into account, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, and geographical location, to construct an inclusive and objective narrative of the conflict on which to build its policies. In the same vein, the US must advocate that Syria’s Constitutional Committee amend the representatives within its body to incorporate more voices from Syria’s diverse groups. As the Constitutional Committee drafts Syria’s new constitution, we must ensure that all components of Syrian society are included and that the interests of Syrian civilians are not sidelined for the interests of the foreign powers militarily involved in the country.
- Accountability and Justice for All: The US must take a strong and objective stance on upholding human rights in areas across Syria. The Biden administration must hold all parties involved in the Syrian conflict to the same impartial standard of accountability for human rights violations. Anything less is not true justice.
- Fair Sanctions: If the Biden administration continues to apply sanctions in Syria, those sanctions must meet two criteria. First, sanctions should be applied to all parties in the Syrian conflict who commit human rights violations, ensuring that all those responsible for crimes against Syrian civilians are held accountable for their actions notwithstanding their foreign partners. Second, sanctions must not impoverish the very civilians on whose behalf they were written. The Biden administration must take the new economic reality of the COVID-19 pandemic into account so that sanctions, however justly applied to human rights violators, do not deny Syrian civilians access to basic necessities.
Annelle Sheline, Nonresident Fellow with the Baker Institute and Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
- Understand the US is perceived as a foreign aggressor, not a neutral arbiter, and allow that to guide further actions: The Biden administration needs to shift the mindset with which it approaches the war in Yemen: the US is not seen as a neutral arbiter, and so trying to behave as if it were will be ineffective. The US has supported Saudi Arabia’s efforts throughout the war, despite occasionally imposing some limits on US assistance. Yet the US maintains a close military partnership with Saudi Arabia and helps to enforce the blockade that is starving Yemen of food and fuel. The fact that special envoy Tim Lenderking found it “confusing” that the Houthis rebuffed his ceasefire proposal demonstrates that he does not understand that the US is seen as an aggressor and not a mediator.
- Rescind UNSC 2216 and pressure for a new UN Security Resolution that acknowledges the concerns of all parties to the conflict: Many have expressed frustration with the failure of various UN representatives to ameliorate the situation in Yemen. This is partly the result of UN Security Council Resolution 2216, the framework that has guided UN efforts since 2015. The resolution imposes unrealistic demands on the Houthis, namely that they must give up their weapons and withdraw from the territory they have seized. Given the strength of their current position, they see no reason to comply. UNSC 2216 also authorizes the air and sea blockade. The resolution prevents the UN and the parties to the conflict from making any progress towards resolution.
- Pressure Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade: Saudi Arabia justifies the blockade of Yemen with the need to prevent weapons from reaching the Houthis. Yet the Houthis are acquiring weapons despite the blockade, which is therefore only starving Yemen of the food and fuel necessary for survival. Furthermore, the blockade reinforces the Houthi narrative that they are defending Yemen from foreign aggression. Lifting the blockade is necessary to prevent famine and restart Yemen’s economy. The US should pressure Saudi Arabia to lift it regardless, but overturning UNSC 2216 would also support this objective.
Adam Weinstein, Research Fellow, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
- Leave Militarily, Not Diplomatically: The US military is not the only driver of the four-decade-long conflict in Afghanistan but it is a significant one. So long as US troops remain in Afghanistan, their presence will factor into decisions by the Afghan government and Taliban. While counterintuitive, it is an open-ended military commitment that subjects the United States and ultimately the Afghan peace process to self-imposed timelines as both countries attempt the futile task of synchronizing short-term interests that will never be aligned. This encourages the United States and Afghanistan to scapegoat individual leaders rather than address the underlying dynamics of the conflict. The leverage US troops provide is also unlikely to lead to a political settlement unless the Taliban calculate that Washington will remain militarily committed to Afghanistan for the indefinite future. This dynamic is largely what has prevented the United States from declaring victory over the last twenty years. Washington should complete the difficult task of withdrawing the remainder of US troops, even if things get worse before they get better, so that it can finally engage in sustainable diplomacy and aid in Afghanistan.
- Make Relations Regionalized, Not Siloed: US strategy in Afghanistan attempted to silo the war effort from other US policies in the region. For example, the dysfunctional US relationship with Iran elevated Pakistan’s importance as a land and air route for the war effort in Afghanistan. Washington should make Afghanistan’s future a multilateral effort and find ways to cooperate with countries like China, Russia, Iran, India, and Pakistan on Afghanistan’s future stability, economy, climate change, and refugees. Afghanistan should be one country in a coherent regional strategy rather than its key focus. This will also allow Afghanistan to improve its own relations with its neighbors.
- Localize Aid, Facilitate Trade: The United States should continue to assist Afghanistan in modernizing its economy and increasing protections for economic rights. This should include assisting the government in developing fair taxation and property rights, improvements to trade infrastructure, lowering clearance times for goods on the Afghanistan–Pakistan border, and increasing exports. Future aid should be responsive to local communities rather than Kabul-centric which will require reforms in the United States and Afghanistan.
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