Biden has yet to set out a clear strategy for Syria, but his campaign has sought to distance itself from Trump’s approach.
“The Trump administration has repeatedly fallen short on U.S. policy in Syria,” the president’s official foreign policy statement says. “Biden would recommit to standing with civil society and pro-democracy partners on the ground. He will ensure the U.S. is leading the global coalition to defeat ISIS and use what leverage we have in the region to help shape a political settlement to give more Syrians a voice.”
Though Biden remained critical of the Syrian government, he appealed to all sides of the conflict, and vowed to restart humanitarian efforts paused under Trump.
“Biden would press all actors to pursue political solutions, protect vulnerable Syrians, facilitate the work of non-governmental organizations, and help mobilize other countries to support Syria’s reconstruction,” the statement said. “He would recommit the United States to lead on humanitarian issues.”
Biden’s choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser, also acknowledged last year that the Obama administration’s Syria approach had “failed” as it was unsuccessful in preventing the conflict from spiraling out of control, leading to widespread loss of life and displacement.
Blinken was confronted with these remarks and past decisions on foreign policy in Syria during a confirmation hearing Tuesday.
“We, and I, certainly, have an obligation to determine from everything we’ve done, advocated, to take into account the results and to inform how we think about these problems going forward,“ Blinken said, adding that he’s “done a lot of hard thinking” about past approaches to issues like Syria.
“I am proud of the fact that I have spent all of my career during the times I’ve been in government for the better part of 25 years working to advance our diplomacy,” Blinken said, “to do everything we possibly can to make sure that diplomacy is the first answer, not the last answer, and that war and conflict is a last resort.”
Trump administration officials entered into a behind-the-scenes dialogue with Damascus over the fate of missing U.S. nationals Austin Tice and Majd Kamalmaz, as Newsweek reported in October. In exchange for cooperation on the issue, Syrian officials demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops from a southwest desert garrison in the rebel-held region of Al-Tanf and sanctions relief.
Conflict is not Syria’s only major concern.
The country is beset by a worsening economic crisis exacerbated by financial woes in neighboring Lebanon and the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the region and world. During Wednesday’s remarks, Jaafari lambasted the U.S. and its allies for maintaining strict sanctions against Syria.
“The United States and the European Union continue to impose more coercive measures on Syria and other countries,” ignoring the calls of the United Nations to put an end to these measures,” Jaafari said, emphasizing that “the coercive economic measures imposed on Syria hinder the purchase of medicines and humanitarian needs and the provision of food baskets to those who deserve it.”