DO NOT cut aid to Syria.
[Update: Ambassador Robert Ford responded with the following statement on Twitter]
Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford proposed a policy recommendation that cuts humanitarian aid to Syria. It's part of a strategy, which pressures Damascus to allow the United Nations to deliver aid to both government and opposition areas. This is simplistic and misguided.
Cutting U.N. humanitarian aid to Syria will only achieve two detrimental objectives for U.S. interests. It will cut the aid currently going to opposition-controlled areas, which will hurt millions of civilians who have no one to rely on for aid but the U.N.
For many Syrians inside government-controlled territories, U.N. aid is what keeps them alive. Only a few aid organizations are currently operating in areas controlled by President Bashar Al-Assad because the Syrian regime blocked aid to communities that support the opposition, according to Ambassador Ford and his co-author. The Syria Trust for Development is an organization that distributes aid provided by the U.N. and is chaired by Asma al-Assad, the president's wife.
However, recipients of U.N. aid are not exclusively composed of the regime and its supporters. In fact, most people, businesses, and organizations that are associated with the regime are under sanctions, meaning they are already denied aid. These individuals and entities have already figured out alternative ways to receive funds — either from the Syrian diaspora or countries who sympathize with Al-Assad. Threats to cut humanitarian aid will not work here.
Al-Assad and his gang don't rely on the U.N. or Western organizations for humanitarian aid. Iran and Russia have been providing the Syrian regime with enough financial assistance to keep it afloat (as a failed state, that is). No matter how many millions of dollars worth of aid the U.N. provides, ambassador Ford and his co-author recommend to cut it off. Yet it's a fact that Al-Assad's survival depends on billions of dollars in credit from Iran. Or the many Iranian investments that have been flooding into areas controlled by the regime.
That financial aid is, one might say, beyond imagination. It fueled the riots that recently took place in Iran. With the U.S. and the European Union exiting Idlib and the areas controlled by al-Nusra Front — under its new name, Hayet Tahrir al Sham, an offshoot of al-Qaeda — expect to see more Russian and Iranian funding rushing to fill that void and used as leverage against U.S. interests.
Furthermore, the U.S. will lose the small but not insignificant leverage it has on Al-Assad. Because the regime's survival does not depend on humanitarian aid provided by the U.N., cutting it off will not be enough to compel Al-Assad to change, as Ambassador Ford would like us to believe.
Kahina Souria is a Syrian expert from Damascus with extensive personal and professional network and experience on military, humanitarian and strategic issues in Syria. Follow her on Twitter.