Syria rocks under continued US bombing and reels under withering US sanctions. But why? Why are we still not friends with Syria?
Bashar al-Assad has long courted a relationship with the west. He has long been willing to act in a way that would make friendship possible. In his 2009 article entitled “Syria Calling,” Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says that then Senator John Kerry, who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and who had just met with Assad, said that Assad “wants to engage with the West….Assad is willing to do the things he needs to do in order to change his relationship with the United States.” Hersh says that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, told him that “Syria is eager to engage with the West.”
Amongst the many “things he needed to do,” the US would want him to prove himself in at least five areas: 9/11, ISIS, chemical weapons, Israel and Iran. He proved himself in all five.
Assad made sure that he made his support for the US clear in the wake of 9/11 by issuing a statement expressing Syria’s support for the US war on al-Qaeda. But his support went well beyond words. In Reporter: A Memoir, Seymour Hersh says that Assad went as far as “sharing with the CIA hundreds of his country’s most sensitive intelligence files on the Muslim Brotherhood in Hamburg, where most of the planning for 9/11 was carried out.” Assad also provided the US with details about a future al-Qaeda attack on the US Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, which Hersh says that he confirmed was invaluable.
Al-Qaeda & ISIS
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are existential threats to the Assad government, and Assad was fighting against them for his survival. In a counterfactual unconvoluted world, that should make Assad our friend. And there was evidence as early as 2014 that Syria was directly cooperating with the US. According to reports at the time, US intelligence was passing Syria information on the location of ISIS leaders for the targeting of air strikes with the German intelligence agency, the BND, acting as middleman.
Despite repeated discredited reports of Assad using chemical weapons,