With potential US strikes acknowledged by Obama as “limited” in aim, and focused not on removing Assad but rather on pushing the regime’s core supporters to the negotiation table, the administration is delaying the end to the conflict, which can only occur when the regime is routed, on the ground, by Syrians.
Policy Failure and Delusions.
Putting it softly, Obama’s Syria policy has been an utter failure – focused on an impotent cocktail of appeasement, containment and extremely non-lethal, passive support for the revolution. It is grounded on the presumption that a negotiated outcome can be achieved by pressuring Assad and allies to just “give up” power.
This approach is not only flawed, but delusional – last week’s chemical weapons attacks and subsequent offensive by the regime across the Damascus suburbs and other liberated areas are just one example in a series of actions over the past 30 months. All of which illustrate the point that as long as Assad remains the best funded, politically supported and foreign armed/manned militia in Syria, there is no hope for a negotiated settlement. After all, why would Assad settle if he believes he will be victorious?
As Obama takes a step back and defers the decision to proceed with the “limited strikes” to Congress, many are questioning whether the action is being sent to die in debate, in essence removing the burden of action off the administration. Regardless, whether this whole episode is a ploy to save face, or even an attempt to exert pressure on Assad’s allies is truly confounding – it presumes that all of Assad’s foreign allies will react to strikes in a uniform manner.
Different Assad Allies. Different Reactions.
Russia, the largest political supporter of the regime, has partnered with the Obama administration for the push towards “Geneva 2” and even if they pout, will eventually fall in line. Note, how upon the mere threat of a strike, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov immediately remarked that Russia would not fight a war for Syria – putting it simply, the Russians bark loudly but act only as the US enables them to in the region. China another political supporter of the regime will, predictably follow Russia’s lead in this matter as well.
Iran however, at this present time cannot afford such a position and will act as the key spoiler to any potential solutions that do not factor in their interests. With the presence in Syria of thousands of loyal, sectarian militiamen from Lebanon and Iraq who fight on Assad’s behalf, Iran has the ability to react immediately to any threats – from the revolution or any party that intends to assert influence in the country.
Even within Assad’s Syrian base, there are estimates of 100k+ fighters in the “National Defense Forces” (the sectarian militia loyal to Assad) in addition to the “shabeeha” and core elements of the Syrian Arab Army and state security. All of whom have had the benefit of more than a week’s notice to redeploy, position human shields, and prepare for a “limited” strike in what is being spun by the regime’s propaganda machine as the defense of the sovereign nation against foreign invaders – the mere mention of “sovereignty” is an absurd joke, as if the regime is still a functioning state that controls the nation and hasn’t survived this long without unlimited direct foreign intervention from its allies.
Additionally, Obama’s unnecessary political posturing this past week, decision to wait for Congressional approval, along with the stunning UK parliament decision not to support strikes has actually turned into a huge morale boost for Assad and his base and will only ensure momentum towards new offenses after the saber-rattling is over.
“Freedom” on the Wings of the West?
Actually no. These impending strikes are not designed to do that. Rather this episode has more to do with NOT directly supporting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – the people on the ground who, if armed consistently and effectively, could actually turn the tide in this struggle.
Theoretically, US strikes, even in a limited nature would provide short-term opportunities for FSA brigades to exploit. However, in another example of US unilateral planning in Syria, there seems to be no tactical coordination between the camps – only guestimates by fighters on potential targets.
As the conflict has evolved the US has jumped through hoops not to provide continuous support the FSA – despite numerous promises of direct military aid indications are that the US is still blocking key supplies from third parties like Saudi Arabia. In essence, they allow allies to keep some supply lines open but manage what gets in limit the overall tide of battle. Without an empowered force how does anyone expect to 1) defeat Assad and his allies; 2) keep militarized extremists at bay that have thrived in the chaos; and 3) securely manage the “day after” the inevitable fall of this regime?
No, freedom for Syria won’t come from US fighter jets, or from a few cruise missiles fired from warships. The regime itself understands this dynamic very well – after all they can withstand “limited” strikes. In the face of a strong militarized resistance, the regime’s very existence is threatened and would collapse, as it has across more than 60% of the country.
Contradictions of Interests and Destiny.
Syrians, across all fronts, are under no illusion as to what drives US potential actions – whether grounded in maintaining security for US allies in the region, namely Israel and Jordan, or even ensuring that an empowered and independent populace cannot emerge to chart the course of freedom for their nation.
The US will only act assertively in Syria on a timetable that suits their interests – last week General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ,reaffirmed what many have believed all along: “It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.”
Even with an understanding of American intentions, after so much suffering and carnage, many Syrians would embrace any possible option that could stop the killing – anything that would even have a slim chance to shake the foundation of the regime and put in motion the events that could lead to an end to the conflict. Regardless of their political stance, people are exhausted, traumatized and want to salvage what they have left in life.
With or without a strike the revolution however will not go away. History will mark the resilience of the Syrian people, and how despite overwhelming odds and hardships they overthrew a dictator – more than two and half years of blood have cemented this destiny, in spite of possible “limited” action by the US.