Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Delusions of power

The Syrian regime is hoping to be accommodated by the US and rehabilitated by the international community, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

As the Syrian crisis spills across borders, taking on a potentially irreversible course, the Obama administration in the US is still weighing its options.

US officials may have no intention of cooperating with the Syrian regime, but they don’t seem willing to do what it takes to bring down the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Over the past three years, the US approach to the Syrian crisis has been alternately perplexing and lethargic.

In the US media, Al-Assad is often described as a bloodthirsty dictator with little regard for the interests of his own people. But US officials seem to be more concerned about other things, including the mushrooming threat of self-styled militants seeking to destabilise and control large swathes of the region.

Benjamin Rhodes, assistant to the US president and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, said that US President Barack Obama still regarded Al-Assad’s removal as the cornerstone of any future solution in Syria.

Referring to the sum of US$0.5 billion that Obama had demanded from the US Congress to provide assistance to the Syrian opposition, Rhodes said that his country was firmly backing Syria’s moderate opposition.

Monzir Aqbiq, a member of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF), said that Rhodes’s statements clearly stated the US position.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Aqbiq said that the US administration “sees Al-Assad as a magnet for terrorism and as a catalyst for the rising power of the extremists.”

Since the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started its operations in Syria, many in the ranks of the Syrian opposition have claimed that the regime has been trying to boost this group.

Opposition members support their argument by noting that the regime has refrained so far from bombing any positions held by ISIS, which has recently changed its name to the Islamic State (IS) after seizing a major chunk of Iraq, thus linking the territories it controls over the two sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Opposition members also note that the Syrian regime has opened up the country to global jihadists in the hope of tarnishing the image of its opponents. It has pretended that the threat to its power comes not from legitimate revolutionaries, but from brutal extremists bent on subjugating the land through fanatical methods.

Meanwhile, the US has confined its assistance to the Syrian opposition to what it calls “non-lethal” help, which includes humanitarian supplies and logistical training but no weaponry.

Short of weapons and ammunition, the moderate Syrian opposition that Washington likes to extol has lost ground to the Iranian- and Russian-backed Syrian army, as well as to the well-funded, battle-hardened fanatics who have streamed across the border on the pretext of fighting the regime or protecting Shia holy places.

Marah Al-Biqayi, the Washington-based leader of the opposition Syrian Republican Party, is suspicious of behind-the-scenes contacts between the Obama administration and the Syrian regime.

Speaking to the Weekly, Al-Biqayi said that the US had maintained open lines of communication with the Syrian regime.

“Even when Washington moved its battleships close to Syrian shores, preparing to remove Al-Assad after he had used chemical weapons, it offered him a way out if he agreed to dismantle the weapons,” she pointed out.

Khattar Abu Diab, a professor of international relations, said that the US was not eager to remove Al-Assad. Speaking to the Weekly, Abu Diab said that much of the current trouble in Syria was due to the ineffective leadership of Obama.

“What is happening today in Syria and Iraq is not the outcome of the Syrian regime’s intransigence and its criminal practices. Nor is it the outcome of the failure of the opposition. Nor is it because of Russia’s bias and Iran’s interference. It is the result of the weak personality and style of Obama,” he said.

“The US hasn’t tried to reinforce the moderate Syrian opposition in any meaningful way. Obama has not come up with any reliable method to bring down the Syrian regime. In fact, Washington doesn’t seem to be in a hurry for a power struggle with the Russians, nor is it really eager to bring down the Syrian regime,” Abu Diab declared.

Abu Diab believes that what Washington is truely focussed on is reaching a deal with the Iranians. “Washington is interested in Israel’s security, and Obama wants a new Middle East that rests on two foundations, Iran and Israel. His energy is directed towards coming to a historic deal with Iran.” Abu Diab’s vision of the future was bleak.

“Current events in Syria are linked to what is happening in Iraq and Lebanon. The extremists operating in the region may pose as the kernel of an Islamic caliphate, but in fact they are little more than the creation of the intelligence services. Their mission is to destroy the Islamic world through a grinding Sunni-Shia war,” he said.

Blaming the US administration for the current rise of the Islamists, Abu Diab said that what we are seeing today is the beginnings of a regional war.

“This war will take place in its most extreme form in the land of the Arabs, with their blood and at the expense of their future. And it is all Washington’s doing,” he said. After the Syrian war spilled into neighbouring countries, many expected the US to take decisive action, for example, by getting the Iranians to stop interfering in Iraq. However, this did not happen.

US officials seem to be looking in the ranks of the Syrian opposition for someone to replace Al-Assad. This person, according to the Americans, must be moderate, non-Islamist, and charismatic. He must also be capable of fighting the regime and the jihadists, controlling Syria in the interim period, and preventing acts of sectarian vendetta after the regime’s fall.

No one can possibly be expected to meet all these conditions, opposition members say. There was a time when the regime was on the brink of falling, they add.

According to Abqiq, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) could have defeated the regime. “But the massive Iranian supply of money, weapons and fighters, in addition to Russian help, kept the regime alive,” he said.

“The regime is using all its might and employing a policy of scorched earth that is a sign of weakness and not of strength. The armed opposition, meanwhile, is fighting on two fronts, against the regime and the jihadists,” Abqiq added.

Al-Biqayi believes that Washington’s current policies are not only detrimental to the region, but also to the very objectives America claims to be seeking.

“The Syrian people are not going to be the only losers in this conflict. The loss is going to be that of America as well. America has fought terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and now in Syria. But it allowed ISIS to be born out of the womb of the Syrian regime,” she said.

“The US hasn’t won the war on terror, nor has it won the friendship and trust of the people in this region who rose up against their oppressors,” Al-Biqayi declared.

As things stand, the current conflict is likely to drag on. And as the fighting degenerates into a war of partitioning, it is likely to get even bloodier.

The one last hope for Syria is for concerted international action to unseat the regime and roll back the jihadists. But no such action seems to be forthcoming.

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