On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia would help Lebanon return its Syrian refugees. But that's not all he said.
The foreign minister also took a jab at the U.S. and its allies for its refusal to aid in rebuilding Syria, and he suggested that the U.S. was doing so to avoid returning the Syrian refugees it has settled.
Rebuilding Syria will take a significant effort after its civil war, with the U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, estimating that it will cost about $250 billion. Syria will not be able to pay for this cost alone; other countries have already begun to pledge support.
Lavrov's comments came two days after the Trump administration announced that it would pull back the $230 million it once pledged to give to rebuilding Syria. Instead, the administration announced that it would begin the restoration process of the territories it took from ISIS.
Rebuilding support from other countries totals up to $300 million, a fraction of what Syria needs. And a third of that money comes from the $100 million that Saudi Arabia pledged last week.
The low level of support is primarily because countries like the United States are not willing to help rebuild Syria until they see a significant amount of political change take place.
“There is not going to be, by international agreement, reconstruction assistance to Syria unless the U.N. ... certifies (and) validates that a credible and irreversible political process is underway,” David M. Satterfield, U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, said.
Satterfield did not say what political processes the U.S. wants changed in Syria but the Trump administration has made clear that it wants Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to leave his position.
Other countries are taking a similar position to the U.S. by waiting until the country seems to improve on its own. If the U.N. decided to help, Syria could expect a larger amount of financial aid, but the question remains as to whether or not Syria will change its politics.
Assad almost stepped down in February of this year, according to an Iranian official, but this was because Islamic State militants were closing in on his official residence. Outside of this, there are not many signs he will leave, though it could be used as a bargaining tool in the future if Syria wins its civil war.
Lavrov also suggested that the U.S. is refusing to help in order to keep the refugees it has settled. The U.S. is telling refugees not to return until it is politically stable, but this suggestion is not a logical one. If anything, the rhetoric coming out of the current administration suggests an attitude more than amenable to resettling refugees in their country of origin should the conflict in Syria end.
When U.S. President Donald Trump took office, he cut former President Barack Obama's refugee admission ceiling for fiscal year 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000. In 2018, Trump set it to 45,000, the lowest number of refugees the U.S. has taken since 1980.
Lavrov may instead be suggesting that the U.S. is trying to use refugees as a ploy to remove Assad, but this too seems to make little sense. At any rate, while the U.S. has at least tenuous reason to avoid helping at present, the country will likely face mounting pressure to help fix what it has destroyed soon or later.
Since 2014, the U.S. has been supporting rebels fighting the Syrian government by giving aid and training soldiers. In 2017, the U.S. took it up a notch by leading a missile strike on Syria, subsequently following with many other deliberate attacks. These attacks have, for the most part, hit military bases, but plenty of civilians have died as the result of American action as well.
According to the Pentagon, the U.S. killed 500 Syrian civilians around the world in 2017 alone, but other, more inclusive estimates say that the U.S. killed 6,000 civilians in Iraq and Syria during the same year.
While it’s difficult to estimate the financial loss, the civilian loss alone should convince many Americans that the country’s duties in Syria will not be fulfilled until it recommits to the rebuilding efforts after the civil war. Though it is reasonable to wonder what kind of Syria will emerge from this conflict without significant political changes, the U.S. objection to aid on the grounds of Syria’s stability needs to be questioned and weighed more closely on its merits. At some level, stability – political or otherwise – cannot be achieved without the financial backing of the international community. That international community should include America.