Will Washington review its double standards in Syria?

The mayhem of the presidential elections has left American policy-makers locked in heated arguments about the future of US domestic and foreign policy.

SIX-YEAR-OLD Awan Al-Aziz stands in a tent at a refugee camp near the Turkish border in Syria in June. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters) (photo credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)
SIX-YEAR-OLD Awan Al-Aziz stands in a tent at a refugee camp near the Turkish border in Syria in June. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
(photo credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)
The mayhem of the presidential elections has left American policy-makers locked in heated arguments about the future of US domestic and foreign policy. Among the most pressing issues on the agenda are developments in the Middle East developments, especially the US role in Syria.
Donald Trump has handed his successor a controversial legacy of multiple unresolved issues coupled with the badly damaged image of the White House. This is true especially for Syria, where despite repeated claims of total victory over ISIS, Islamic State terrorists continue to carry out sporadic attacks throughout the eastern part of the country. The activity of sleeper cells became a pretext for rejecting the idea of a complete US military withdrawal from Syria.
It is widely believed that the Biden administration intends to make use of the terrorist threat to keep boots on the ground in Syria in order to ensure the security of oil and gas fields. Indeed, the fight against international terrorism constitutes the basis of Washington’s foreign policy in the Middle East. However, the history of the US in the region has shown that the White House primarily regards terrorist groups as an opportunity to benefit from seizing previously inaccessible resources.
In pursuit of economic and political goals, human rights are sidelined, as is the case in Al-Hawl camp, where refugees suffer from miserable conditions while living side-by-side with captured ISIS terrorists. The camp that was initially established in 1991 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for Iraqi citizens fleeing from the Persian Gulf war, started to host ISIS terrorists and their families in late 2018. The camp, originally designed for 11,000 people, currently counts about 70,000 residents – more than six times its capacity – the majority of whom are women and children of various nationalities. Camp dwellers blame the overcrowding and poor management for a shortage of water, food and medical care.
The American leadership persistently ignores this humanitarian catastrophe, a byproduct of the neglectful approach to the civilian population applied by the US-backed Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). By doing this, Washington has possibly violated the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, under which the US is obliged to ensure the safety of civilians in northeast Syria.
Another worrying tendency is the increase in the number of riots and escapes from SDF-controlled prisons that hold around 10,000 detainees. The most serious incidents took place in October 2019, when several hundred prisoners broke out of Ain Issa Prison. The Americans did not pay sufficient attention to these developments. They chose not to investigate human trafficking networks used to smuggle militants out of jail and ultimately out of Syria, despite the risk of reappearance of armed groups and a rise in subversive activities. This deliberate ignorance will persist until the armed groups pose a threat to US military bases in the energy-rich Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor provinces.
This is yet another reminder that the US is not a reliable ally for the Kurdish autonomous administration. As Ankara continues to strengthen its positions in the region, there has been growing speculation about Turkey planning another military operation in northern Syria. Earlier, the Turkish leadership had abused the buffer-zone agreement with the SDF that was brokered by the US to evict the Kurds from these areas. Back then, the Turks faced no obstacles in implementing their plan as the American troops withdrew from the buffer zone on the very eve of the Turkish Peace Spring operation. During the Turkish offensive, a number of massive escapes let dozens of terrorists out of SDF jails. Keeping in mind the US practical approach to its geopolitical interests, the new American administration will likely prefer not to obstruct its NATO ally, and the Kurds will be again hit by Turkish artillery and weaponized drones. 
US foreign policy under Trump has been dominated by the pursuit of economic benefits under the pretext of promoting democracy and protecting civilians, a perfect representation of the president’s disregard for the interests of any state, be it ally or enemy, whose resources fall within the White House’s sphere of interests. Double standards have become a defining trait of US international relations with civilians, whose interests are supposedly protected by the US military, but who have been reduced to a bargaining chip. The upcoming transition of US leadership and the inauguration of Joe Biden as president will have to determine whether the United States is capable of being a guarantor of security and stability, or whether Washington’s economic ambitions come first.
The writer is a freelance Syrian journalist focused on the Middle East and especially the Levant.