By Barry Rubin
They’ve been saying it in Arabic, in public, for most of President Barack Obama’s term in office. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood said it in August 2010: he pointed to Obama’s weakness as a reason for launching a revolution. But the American mass media has ignored it all.
Well, now we have some leaked Syrian regime internal documents that make the same point. In talking points for President Bashar al-Assad prepared by his staff and given him on December 31, 2011, Assad is told to warn pro-Arab Western countries:
America has started to leave our region and there will be no ally left to you but your Syrian neighbor.
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And Iran, of course, but Assad didn’t want to mention his non-Arab ally.
This is the line from Iran and Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood (including Hamas), and Hizballah. Saudis say it in public now; Israeli leaders say it in private. Opposition activists say it in Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey; opposition fighters say it in Syria.
The Egyptian regime knows that it can indict 16 Americans — including the son of a U.S. cabinet member — on espionage charges, and Obama will still provide its aid. And, in reaching a deal to let them leave the country, $4 million in American ransom.
The message: you can’t depend on America to be a firm ally, and you can depend on America to be a weak enemy. The U.S. position in the region is eroding away.
And yet almost all we hear from the mass media and “experts” is how successful Obama’s policy has been, how America is now loved in the Middle East, and how the radical Islamists are moderate democrats.
Assad’s advisor also provided a piece of advice that would be well-heeded by Obama or his successor after the November elections:
The people need to see a powerful president defending the country.
But is Western weakness inevitable? The current debate about what to do regarding Syria is as wrong-headed as all the other contemporary Western debates on policy toward the region. The word “intervention” is tossed about as if Syria is another Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya, and one is talking about sending Western troops. Yet the most important step Western countries could take is very simple, low-cost, and low-risk: supply weapons secretly to the Free Syrian Army.
While some of the fighters are Islamists, the army is led by professional officers and locally by respected figures who are overwhelmingly not from the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafist groups. At a minimum, the weapons would allow the group to survive and to carry on its battle. They will not guarantee victory, but they will guarantee these people won’t be wiped out in the next few months.
Maintaining a no-fly zone and a safe haven in the north would take more involvement, but only at a low level, and certainly would not involve ground troops. So far, I have not seen a single serious evaluation of what resources these two things would require, and why that would be too much to ask. These issues are worthy of detailed and quick discussion. But there is no sign that this is going to happen at all. And so, as the Syrian regime stated more broadly, those fighting for a more democratic regime there also have “no ally.”
We now hear that the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Turkey passed more than 25 resolutions, and there is talk of providing money — to the Muslim-Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council.
Here is how Ammar Abdulhamid put it in Syria Revolution Digest, March 30:
Assad is taking his sweet time pounding residential neighborhoods and killing children. The opposition is taking its sweet time arguing over division of spoils that don’t yet exist while taking dictates from all and sundry, other than the Syrian people. World leaders are taking their sweet time reaching a consensus on what not to do, if a consensus can ever be reached on anything in the international scene. Meanwhile Syria is fast descending into hell, her dream of freedom fast turning into a nightmare of endless global and geopolitical calculations. In situations like these, time has always been on the side of anarchy. But then perhaps this is what everybody wants.
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.