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Mideast Media Sampler – 04/26/2013 – Too late in Syria?

Mideast Media Sampler – 04/26/2013 – Too late in Syria?

Next in Syria

Why hasn’t the United States acted more strongly against Bashar Assad?

The New York Times reports on Syrian efforts to influence American thinking.

As Islamists increasingly fill the ranks of Syrian rebels, President Bashar al-Assad is waging an energized campaign to persuade the United States that it is on the wrong side of the civil war. Some government supporters and officials believe they are already coaxing — or at least frightening — the West into holding back stronger support for the opposition.

Confident they can sell their message, government officials have eased their reluctance to allow foreign reporters into Syria, paraded prisoners they described as extremist fighters and relied unofficially on a Syrian-American businessman to help tap into American fears of groups like Al Qaeda.

“We are partners in fighting terrorism,” Syria’s prime minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi, said.


Tony Badran explains how administration actions have convinced Assad that he’s been successful.

It would be easy to dismiss Assad as a deranged despot, and to disregard his reported statements to a bunch of Lebanese sycophants as mere propaganda by Beirut’s pro-regime media. However, another way to look at it is to consider how Assad himself has been reading the US posture toward him for the last two years. From Assad’s vantage point, he has successfully steered US policy, as the White House has been echoing the main points he has put forward concerning the situation in Syria.

To be sure, the most obvious confirmation for Assad that the US is not “going all the way” is President Obama’s clear abandonment of the ‘red line’ he drew on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Even as three US allies – France, Britain, and Israel – have all concluded that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons, the White House is refusing to back their conclusions. As The New York Times noted, such a step “could force Mr. Obama’s hand.” In order to avoid this, President Obama’s aides have ‘amended’ his ‘red line.’ For Assad, this is as good a proof of US ‘pragmatism’ as any. What’s more, as he has strived to shape the narrative of the war in Syria, Assad has found in the administration’s public posture what he clearly considers a receptive ear.

It is too late to change the past, but what options now exist?

In Dithering While Damascus Burns, Senator Bob Corker advocates:

First, the United States must act to affect the balance of power on the ground, shifting momentum away from radical Islamist groups toward more moderate elements that we hope can lead Syria after Mr. Assad’s fall.

Unfortunately, the moderate elements we must support are not the most formidable or the most cohesive of the forces fighting in Syria.

We must use American resources and ingenuity to help change that — beyond the “nonlethal assistance” we currently provide. This will require weapons and training for rebel units vetted by the United States as well as assistance to improve leadership skills, and cohesiveness in both military and civilian institutions. We should not be engaged in nation building, but we can certainly support Syrians committed to rebuilding their country.

Danielle Pletka advises:

This administration has mastered the art of defining deviancy down – particularly when it comes to the deviancy of rogue states and WMD (read Iran, North Korea, Syria). But having boxed himself into a corner, Obama is now faced with the choice of repudiating his earlier self, or actually doing something. What should that something be? It’s been said, said again, and said a hundred times: Arm moderates among the Syrian rebels. Take out Syrian air power. Take out scud launchers. Create a humanitarian corridor. These are DOABLE goals, requiring no boots on the ground. And while sorting the moderates from the Qatar-funded terrorists fighting Assad is getting harder and harder, surely such a job is not beyond the grasp of the United States of America.

Disillusioned former administration official Vali Nasr recommends:

It is time the U.S. took over from Qatar and Saudi Arabia in organizing the Syrian opposition into a credible political force — failure to do that accounts for the chaos that has paralyzed the group. There are powerful economic sanctions that the U.S. could use to cripple the Assad regime.

However, Barry Rubin cautions:

The too-late proposed Western strategy is to strengthen non-Islamist forces in Syria and to create safe zones, for minorities and to keep out Salafists, near Syria’s borders. This looks good on paper but it won’t work for several reasons.
First, the non-Islamist forces are too weak to hold any territory. his might be influenced by the successful creation of such a zone for the Kurds in northern Iraq. Yet the Iraqi Kurds were a well-armed, coherent ethnic group that was sufficiently united and had favorable terrain. These conditions don’t apply to Syria, or at least only for Syrian Kurds and Druze, not for the Sunni Muslim majority or Christian minority. The setting up of safe zones on, say, the Jordanian and Israeli borders will simply be an attractive target for Salafists who will mobilize popular support by branding the “moderates” as the traitorous tools of infidels and attacking them. Non-Islamist forces are also at this point unreliable and some of those groups touted as “moderates” seem to be closer to the Brotherhood.
And then we will once again be told that the Islamists and lots of Muslims only hates the West because it invades their countries and intervenes against them. Incidentally, don’t be surprised when after the revolution the victorious Islamists will claim that the West was behind the old dictatorship–a lie–and that not giving the rebels even more weapons was a Western stab in the back that further merits hatred.
Given these realities, then, the task of Western policy will be based on the understanding that they will not be able to shape events in Syria. It could have been different if a proper policy had been followed earlier.
The best that can be done now would be to help Christians either to survive or flee; to assist Druze and Kurds protect themselves by strengthening the former’s militia and the latter’s autonomy; and even, as a purely humanitarian strategy if Assad has fallen, to help Alawite civilians not guilty of war crimes to escape. Otherwise, thousands of people could be massacred.

Pletka clearly understands the need to avoid supporting Islamists. When Corker refers to “radical Islamist groups” does he mean to suggest that non-radical Islamist groups would be acceptable?

Does the apparent use of chemical weapons change anything?

The New York Times argues that it should make no difference, yet.

In August, President Obama warned Mr. Assad that chemical weapons would be a “game changer” and hinted they could prompt a direct American response. Such action might be justified, but only if there is incontrovertible proof of the use of chemical weapons and only if other countries join in the response — should it come to that. The United States badly damaged its credibility when it went to war in Iraq because of a nuclear weapons program that didn’t exist. That unfortunate history cannot be repeated.

The sole motivation for the New York Times is not to repeat a specific mistake. That is the result of reacting, not thinking. The editorial rejects charges against Syria because there’s “no physical evidence.” Of course publicly available evidence may be less than what intelligence agencies have. I’m not necessarily advocating changing the approach to Syria because of its possible chemical weapon use. It seems that the New York Times is adopting the least aggressive policy towards Syria. Is it isolationism? Or is the paper just trying to be in agreement with the feckless Obama administration?


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Obama mostly wants to be loved by as many people as possible. The problem is, you’ll get a lot more loved (at least in the middle-term) by telling everyone what they want to hear, and doing nothing, than if you actually did something. Because then at least one group would know you lied and would hate you for that. And both groups would know that you couldn’t be trusted.

on top of that, his domestic political base’s main complaints against Bush were: (1) foreign wars and (2) big debt to pay for them. At least Bush got rid of a murderous dictator – Obama’s got the choice of either keeping one in power, or replacing with a new dictatorship-of-the-people.

So Obama will never do anything to push out Assad, and he’ll want a stalemate to last for forever, so that he won’t have to deal with getting blamed for not taking sides.

And I can’t see conservatives pushing to support Assad (or the Brotherhood), which are the only choices Obama has left them.

Thus, I expect Assad to stay in power. He’s come up with a winning strategy. Murderous, certainly. But it worked for Stalin for decades. Nobody invaded Cambodia to get rid of Pol Pot.

Iraq should be a sufficient lesson to us to beware the pitfalls of creating a power vacuum, but with Iran sending their jihadists to fight for the Syrian government, and AQ in Iraq sending theirs to fight against it, maybe we should hold back and let some attrition happen.

Sure does make it suck to be an average “just wants to make a living and raise a family” Syrian, though, so I guess we’ll be blamed no matter what.

[…] See the original post here: Mideast Media Sampler – 04/26/2013 – Too late in Syria? – Le·gal In … […]

    I’m not sure I understand the point of a comment here linking to another website’s link to here.

    Seems rather circular.

      David Gerstman in reply to unitron. | April 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Unitron, I don’t think that there’s “a point.” The way WordPress is set up (and it might be the standard way it is set up) it takes “pings” from other sites linking to it. i.e. it happened automatically.

        unitron in reply to David Gerstman. | April 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm

        Far be it from me to say anything nice about software, but I’ve never seen that behavior on other sites using it, and I’m not sure I see what purpose it could serve, especially since you have to go out of your way to see what the other site was that linked to this article.

        I mean, what kind of user name is “UPDATE: Mideast Media Sampler – 04/26/2013 – Too late in Syria? – Le·gal In … « Regional Wars!”?

        Oh well, I guess in the grand scheme of all of the world’s problems, this one isn’t much worth worrying about.

        Thanks for the explanation.

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