US hesitation 'part of the plan'
Syria's opposition has criticised the US for dragging its feet over the Syrian crisis, but observers believe the inaction could be part of a strategy to remove Syria from the regional equation, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus
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Al-Midan neighbourhood in Aleppo after clashes erupted between the Free Syrian Army and Bashar's forces
For some months now, the US has been declaring that it will not intervene militarily in Syria and that its assistance to the Syrian opposition will be limited to non-military support such as medical and communications equipment and training. The NATO secretary-general last week reiterated this joint US-European position, stressing that NATO would not intervene militarily in Syria.
The US has used several arguments for refusing to arm the opposition to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, including concerns about the opposition's disarray and the weapons reaching unreliable parties.
Yet, while Washington has been refusing to arm the Syrian opposition, it has not ceased to advocate the removal of the Syrian regime, something which has confused the country's opposition since the regime has continued to use heavy weaponry in its efforts to end the 19-month uprising.
The opposition has often expressed its irritation over the US position, which it describes as full of "sound and fury" but showing nothing by way of tangible steps. Some members of the opposition feel that the US has abandoned the Syrian people, since it has done little to help them despite the violence of the regime.
In the first weeks of the uprising against the Syrian regime last year, the US not only encouraged the protesters but also promised the leaders of the popular movement and opposition parties that it would work with them in preventing the Syrian regime from using violence against them.
When the regime did so, the US promised to create safe zones protected from air and ground attacks that would be considered liberated territories. Washington encouraged opposition factions to carry arms and indicated its belief that the regime could not remain in power longer than a few weeks.
The US also encouraged Syrian opposition groups close to Washington to reject any settlement not built on Al-Assad's departure from power, thereby obstructing any possible agreement between the regime and the opposition.
The political opposition and the popular movement and later also the armed opposition insisted that the president must step down, which the regime has refused to countenance.
Since last year, the Syrian opposition had been hoping that the US will intervene and impose safe zones in Syria, but Washington has procrastinated and insisted that the opposition close ranks first.
Despite their ideological differences, the opposition groups agreed in Cairo in July on a unified vision for the future of Syria, and then waited for the promised US assistance to arrive.
However, Washington did not keep its word. Instead, it began criticising the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), the strongest opposition group, undermining its morale. It then began considering supporting the armed opposition instead, particularly the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Commenting on reports that the US has abandoned its support for the political opposition, Loay Safi, a member of the SNC, told Al-Ahram Weekly that "the Obama administration has been hesitant in dealing with the Syrian issue since the beginning. So far, it has provided nothing more than media statements and meetings. The US's recent attempts to overlook the political opposition and connect with the combat units will not benefit the revolution or serve the interests of the Syrian people."
"These US actions make any effort to unite FSA ranks more difficult, because they support some combat units and ignore others in the absence of a central command. The US position is becoming more confused and lacks a clear strategy to support democratic change in Syria and protect the Syrian people from the regime's systematic killing."
Meanwhile, the armed opposition has been able to take almost complete control of large areas of northern Syria, including around Aleppo, Idlib and Deir Al-Zor. It has also been able to establish a solid foundation for safe zones that could serve as a springboard for a future transitional government and a centre for refugees.
The armed opposition has said that it does not need direct US military intervention, but a few dozen anti-aircraft rockets to protect these safe zones from air strikes could make all the difference.
However, the US has continued to make excuses to avoid its pledge of support, with some observers believing that the US could be delaying action on Syria until after the US presidential elections.
"I don't believe that the US presidential race is the main reason preventing the Obama administration from taking action to stop the killing in Syria," Safi said. "What is missing is the political will to support the Syrian opposition."
"Since the middle of the last century, the US has been used to dealing with despotic leaders in the Arab world, and it is apparently not ready to deal with political leaders that are attuned to the needs of the street and national priorities."
"However, there are many Syrian-American organisations that are relentlessly working to influence the official US position and create room for action to provide relief and support for the FSA."
"The lack of clear information about a US plan on Syria means one of two things: either the US leadership does not have a plan to end the bloodbath, or that plan disregards the political leadership and the Syrian revolution and is not interested in keeping them in the loop," Safi said.
Washington has used claims that Al-Qaeda elements have infiltrated Syria as an excuse for not supplying the armed opposition with more direct assistance, and it has expressed fears that Al-Qaeda or its sympathisers could take power in Syria after Al-Assad's fall.
These are the same excuses that the regime has been using to justify its war on the revolution in Syria.
Fawaz Tallu, a Syrian opposition figure, denied that jihadists were present in Syria. "There are isolated cases, but they have no political or military weight," Tallu said, adding that Al-Qaeda groups "would never be able to pass through the gateway of the revolution."
"The FSA brigades can put an end to this phenomenon if it exists, because it is something that does not have any social roots. The FSA realises the dangers this could have for Syria's future."
"From a practical perspective, revolutionaries everywhere are very knowledgeable about the forces in their areas, and such elements could not hide among them or work in secret. This would isolate any such elements, allowing them to be brought under control swiftly when needed."
Following an indication by the Syrian regime earlier this year that it possessed chemical weapons, the US said it was concerned the regime could use them, warning it against overstepping such red lines.
However, Washington has apparently not considered the regime's use of heavy weaponry against the Syrian people to be a red line, something that the opposition has interpreted as meaning that the US does not object to the regime destroying the country.
Some in the Syrian opposition even say that there is a joint Israeli-American goal to destroy Syria's human, military and economic capabilities before any eventual foreign intervention.
If Al-Assad succeeds in destroying Syria, this will mean that the country will not be able to recover for at least a decade.
"The Arab Spring surprised the US and the West in general," Abdel-Razek Eid, the leader of the opposition Damascus Declaration bloc, told the Weekly.
"It did not care about the amount of bloodshed on Syrian streets as the price of freedom. The US is just making empty promises based on its traditional geo-political views and the principles it has inherited from the Cold War. Russia has also been acting with contempt for the Syrian people."
The US has said that its conflict with Russia about Syria is continuing and that it still wants to see a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that would oblige the regime to call a ceasefire.
If the dispute with Russia over such a resolution continues, the US says, it will aim to work with countries that support the opposition with a view to accelerating the collapse of the Al-Assad regime.
The opposition says that the US is capable, if there is political will, of forming a coalition of regional forces that would render Russian objections irrelevant. The US's military, political, intelligence and technical capabilities are superior to Russia's, and the regime's campaign of killings has seriously weakened the Russian position.
Some observers argue that the US has not reneged on its promises to the armed opposition, but that it is counting on the regime's short-sightedness, inability to understand, and continuing war and destruction, before coming to the rescue of a devastated country.
Only then, observers say, will the West act to overthrow the regime, ensuring that Syria is disabled for at least another decade.