By Barry Rubin
Some of my readers are unhappy that I keep criticizing President Barack Obama and his government. The problem is that this administration keeps doing terrible things in the Middle East. And the most damning evidence on these actions comes not from Obama’s enemies but from the administration itself and the supportive mass media.
Here’s the latest such item:
“U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out with Russia’s Aid,” by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, in the New York Times.
For almost three years, Obama insisted he would win over the Syrian dictatorship and make it America’s friend rather than Iran’s number-one ally. That was ludicrous. Forced by the uprising to back away from Damascus, the Obama Administration has spent almost a year bumbling about what to do.
The U.S. government’s main activity was to entrust to the Turkish Islamist regime the job of forming an umbrella Syrian opposition leadership. Not surprisingly, Ankara pursued its own interest by assembling a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated group, the Syrian National Congress. Though several members resigned, complaining of the radical Islamist control, the Obama Administration is still trying to force hostile oppositionists to join.
Now the administration has unveiled a new and equally terrible policy. I’ll let the New York Times’ reporters explain it:
President Obama will push for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad under a plan that calls for a negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place. The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal. Obama, administration officials said, will press the proposal with President Putin of Russia at their meeting next month. Obama’s national security adviser raised the plan with Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.
Good grief! There are four different acts of strategic insanity involved in this paragraph. They are…
1. “A negotiated political settlement that…could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place.”
The Syrian dictatorship is led by murderous thugs who know this is a case of kill or be killed. They aren’t going to give up any of their power. And why should they since they think they’re winning and may well be right? They know the outside world won’t do anything, despite the regime killing around 10,000 civilians.
2. “A negotiated political settlement that would satisfy Syrian opposition groups but that could leave remnants of Assad’s government in place.”
The opposition is not so foolish as a Washington pundit, policymaker, or politician. They know that their only hope is to destroy the regime entirely. The democrats want to do so in order to have a modern democracy. The Islamists want Islamism. The Kurds and Druze want autonomy. How could there possibly be a coalition? Both sides know that within days people would be murdering each other. How could anyone expect this kind of deal would work or that the opposition would accept it?
If anyone in Syria might favor such a plan it’s the Muslim Brotherhood. which has toyed with the idea of using such a transition period to strengthen its own hand. So the idea cannot succeed but reveals once again that the Obama Administration seems to get many of its strategies from the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s an observation, not a conspiracy theory.
3. “The success of the plan hinges on Russia, one of Assad’s staunchest allies, which has strongly opposed his removal.”
Just think about that sentence! The Obama Administration wants to depend on a country that’s disdainful of U.S. interests, wants to sabotage them, and is on the opposite side! The president wants to ask a country that is “strongly opposed” Assad’s removal to remove Assad!
And finally, equally amazingly:
4. “Obama, administration officials said, will press the proposal with President Putin of Russia at their meeting next month. Obama’s national security adviser raised the plan with Putin in Moscow three weeks ago.”
It’s Obama, not Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who is pushing this plan to put Russia in control! If your enemy tries to fool or cheat you, that’s a problem. If you beg him to cheat you and hand him the means to do so, that’s a betrayal of U.S. interests.
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To summarize, the Obama policy shows three characteristics that have wider implications for the president’s strategies:
It favors Islamist enemies.
It “leads from behind” by giving the initiative to those who wish America no good.
And it shows no interest in helping genuinely pro-American moderates who are fighting for their lives.
And that, friends, is why I spend so much time bashing Obama’s Middle East policy, because it is so very bad and dangerous.
Now a possible explanation for all of this would be that Obama doesn’t really want to do anything about Syria for other reasons. The United States doesn’t want to get dragged into direct intervention; it’s a lower-priority issue; there’s no great policy option; and his only concern is the American election.
But so what? It’s still possible to come up with a better policy than this, a policy that would make Obama look good as well as serve US interests. He could call for Assad’s overthrow; back truly moderate oppositionists; subvert Islamist influence; and send arms and money, but only to the moderates. In order to portray himself as decisive, heroic, and a friend of democracy, Obama could take every possible overt and covert opportunity to weaken Assad, even helping at a low cost to create a no-fly zone and safe havens. None of this is going to happen.
Instead, though, he turns over dealing with the opposition to an Islamist regime in Turkey and subcontracts dealing with the regime to a pro-regime Russian government. I’d say that Obama’s policy in the region could not easily be worse but who knows what’s next, especially if there’s a second term?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.
Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition),
The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle
East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.