Shape-Shifting on Syria
To expect people in the Middle East to do what the United States demands -- without the expenditure of American political and military resources on behalf of allies and against adversaries -- is the biggest wishful thinking of all.
The United States has not made the case that the national security interest of the United States requires the use of military force in Syria. Others have made the case for regime change, punishment, and deterrence against future use of non-conventional weapons by Syria, Iran or North Korea; and some of those cases are compelling. But the Administration has articulated no outcome toward which it is willing to commit substantial military resources and political capital.
The Administration has cast its goals primarily in the negative: no regime change, no tip toward the rebels, and no boots on the ground. In the affirmative: a shot across the bow and an exercise in American credibility presumably to influence both Syria and Iran. President Obama asserted that he would decide -- with or without Great Britain (now without), with or in defiance of the UN (now in defiance of), with or without Congress (now with) -- what he thinks is best. In fact, the Administration has been clearer, more definitive and more adamant about its prerogatives as than it has been about what outcome it seeks.
Congress will now debate the need to enforce "red lines" and ensure American credibility, including to Iran, in the face of tremendous domestic opposition to American intervention in the region. Congress will now have to make the case the Administration did not.
The question is, "What outcome does the United States seek through military action?"
American policy toward Syria has had serial phases:
- Preference for a reformed Bashar Assad.
- Determination to remove Assad from power through a political process, retaining the structure of the Syrian state and its secular nature. This involved the first attempt to find common ground with the Russians at the UN.
- Willingness to support insurrection and revolution by Syrian rebels, while publicly trying to keep arms length from any actual military assistance. The administration dissembled on its role in arming and training the rebels in this phase.
- Threats or "red lines" that implied a willingness to respond to unacceptable violence with armed force.
- A return to the political forum of the UN precipitated by Great Britain, this time knowing there would be no common ground with the Russians.
In 2009, the current administration flattered and cajoled Bashar Assad, returning the U.S. Ambassador to Damascus and partially lifting sanctions on the regime (including on aircraft engines, which had major implications later as the war intensified). For the next two years, a stream of American politicos visited and chatted up Assad; this was the period of the famous "Rose in the Desert" paean to Asma Assad in Vogue magazine and dinner with the Kerrys. They called Bashar Assad a "reformer"and hoped for change.
There was no change, and in August 2011 the Administration demanded that Assad resign, shifting America's desired outcome from an "improved Assad" to "no Assad."
Publicly eschewing arming the rebel forces, the U.S. supported Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in their vetting and arming groups of their choosing while we tried to organize the political opposition. In early February 2012, the U.S. and its allies went to the UN Security Council with a laundry list of demands for the Assad government, including that it dissolve itself. Russia vetoed the resolution on behalf of its client, to the expressed fury of Secretary of State Clinton.
Later that month, Secretary Clinton called on the people of Damascus and Aleppo to rise up in protest and "start pulling the props out from under this illegitimate regime." In March 2012, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron blustered together about the war in Syria as "appalling" and "unacceptable." This appeared to be a shift in tactics if not strategy -- from demanding a political transition to supporting the overthrow of the Assad government. It turned out, however, that the administration had been hiding the depth of the CIA's involvement in vetting rebel groups and providing them with intelligence and other information, as well as an American role in shipping arms from Libya to Syria.
The understanding by the Russian and Syrian governments that the U.S. had been calling for political transition while helping the armed opposition made future diplomacy unlikely.
The President's famous "red line" on the movement or use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government appeared in August 2012. The implication of a "red line" is that it can be crossed only at some cost. The implication of an American "red line" is that the cost would be imposed by America -- another escalation in the U.S. determination to be rid of Assad without saying as much.
In May 2013, the U.S. and Russia were touting agreement on a new political process, but in June, a series of Syrian government advances and some evidence of chemical use prompted a very reluctant President Obama to announce the overt provision of small arms to the rebels. How reluctant? The deputy national security advisor made the announcement in a phone call while the President decamped to Ireland. More of his statement covered what the U.S. would not do, not supply and not support than what the administration would do. In July, Senators Levin, Menendez and McCain called for direct American military involvement including targeting runways to "degrade Assad's ability to use air power and ballistic missiles."
Now, a year after the casual declaration of the "red line," the Syrian government almost certainly has used chemical weapons against its people. The United States is committed to that line and to military action in a way it previously was not.
The Russians predictably vetoed a Security Council Resolution, and David Cameron became the first British Prime Minister to lose a war vote in Parliament since 1792, leaving President Obama back where he started -- wishing for the immaculate transformation of Syria into a secular and gentle democracy, and wishing to stay out of the fighting. But the nature of the regimes that have ruled the region for nearly a century virtually ensures that all transformation will be hard and violent. To expect people in the Middle East to listen to the United States, to do what the U.S. wants or demands -- without the expenditure of American political and military resources, on behalf of allies and against adversaries -- is the biggest exercise in wishful thinking of all.
Reader comments on this item
|The hunt for the hidden agenda of President Obama [46 words]||Thomas Thomas||Sep 6, 2013 05:24|
Comment on this item
by Soeren Kern
"My son and I love life with the beheaders." — British jihadist Sally Jones.
Mujahidah Bint Usama published pictures of herself on Twitter holding a severed head while wearing a white doctor's jacket; alongside it, the message: "Dream job, a terrorist doc."
British female jihadists are now in charge of guarding as many as 3,000 non-Muslim Iraqi women and girls held captive as sex slaves.
"The British women are some of the most zealous in imposing the IS laws in the region. I believe that's why at least four of them have been chosen to join the women police force." — British terrorism analyst Melanie Smith.
by Khaled Abu Toameh
"Armed robbery in broad daylight." — Palestinians, after Hamas "seized" $750,000 from Gaza bank.
Fatah accused Hamas of "squandering" $700 million of financial aid earmarked for the Palestinian victims of war. Fatah wants to ensure that the millions of dollars intended for the Gaza Strip will pass through its hands and not end up in Hamas's bank accounts. Relying on Fatah in this regard is like asking a cat to guard the milk.
The head of the Palestinian Authority's Anti-Corruption Commission revealed that his group has retrieved $70 million of public funds fund embezzled by Palestinian officials. Arab and Western donors need to make sure that their money does not end up (once again) in the wrong hands. Without a proper mechanism of accountability and transparency, hundreds of millions of dollars are likely to find their way into the bank accounts of both Hamas and Fatah leaders.
by Mudar Zahran
"If Hamas does not like you for any reason all they have to do now is say you are a Mossad agent and kill you." — A., a Fatah member in Gaza.
"Hamas wanted us butchered so it could win the media war against Israel showing our dead children on TV and then get money from Qatar." — T., former Hamas Ministry officer.
"They would fire rockets and then run away quickly, leaving us to face Israeli bombs for what they did." — D., Gazan journalist.
"Hamas imposed a curfew: anyone walking out in the street was shot. That way people had to stay in their homes, even if they were about to get bombed. Hamas held the whole Gazan population as a human shield." — K., graduate student
"The Israeli army allows supplies to come in and Hamas steals them. It seems even the Israelis care for us more than Hamas." — E., first-aid volunteer.
"We are under Hamas occupation, and if you ask most of us, we would rather be under Israeli occupation… We miss the days when we were able to work inside Israel and make good money. We miss the security and calm Israel provided when it was here." — S., graduate of an American university, former Hamas sympathizer.
by Ben Cohen
Now, with the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate having captured key oil wells in the Middle East this year, foreign oil has become an even more lethal financial weapon-of-choice for those seeking to destroy democracy and further escalate the War on Terror.
That President Barack Obama failed even to mention oil as a critical factor in the war against IS during his speech to the nation on September 10, is an omission both revealing and dangerous in terms of how his administration wants to depict the stakes involved in this latest confrontation with the jihadis.
by Lawrence A. Franklin
One Pakistani recruiter of child suicide bombers describes these children as "tools provided by God."
Another Muslim cleric in a madrassa [Islamic boys' school] describes child suicide bombers as "a gift from Allah that we have an unlimited number willing to be sacrificed to teach Americans a lesson."
Using children as suicide bombers will stop when... they stop "condoning the killing of innocents."