By Hazem Saghieh
If we put the small details aside, and also the humanitarian and moral appeals that major – morally and humanitarianly weak – policies ignore, we will find that there is a deep misunderstanding between the Syrian revolution and the United States, or rather, the image that each side has of the other does not resemble its reality.
The appeals made by the Syrian opposition to the United States, or the criticisms addressed to the latter for not responding to those appeals, reflect a desire for America to be more like it was under Bush and less like it is now under Obama. In other words, this means, whether we like it or not, that the success of the Syrian revolution and other revolutions, hinges on a more interventionist and more proactive U.S. policy. For one thing, when the ‘world policeman’, whom Obama does not want to be, grows weaker, police states of every kind grow stronger.
Admitting that fact reinforces the arguments of the opponents of the Syrian revolution, who ‘accuse’ it of being pro-American, although this latter attitude, if true, has not resulted in an American treatment in kind or American assistance. It also weakens the arguments of some of the supporters of the revolution from ‘leftwing’ or anti-American viewpoints.
However, what is more important than this is that the ‘discourse’ of the revolution remains in a grey area when it comes to articulating this desire, and in many times, it declares the opposite of this desire, especially when it comes to non-Syrian issues, concerning Iraq or Palestine for example. Here, ideological baggage seems to have a braking effect.
Meanwhile, shifting into Bush-era policies does not seem to be likely to take place in the United States (and Western Europe), where the Obama doctrine leans on an increasingly isolationist and reluctant popular mood, without being moved by a discourse that focuses on the unity or intersection of interests.
The most important function of the Syrian revolution, and all other Arab revolutions, in the U.S. perception, is combatting jihadi extremism. When military dictatorships are condemned, according to this perception, this happens because of the repression they generate that then engenders radical Islamic reactions, which could ultimately be manifested as terror attacks against the West. The proponents of this perception had been vindicated when al-Qaeda’s activities suffered a setback with the start of the revolutions, and when Osama bin Laden’s death was met with indifference by the forces rallying in the public squares.
This, in turn, is no longer the case today. Indeed, yet without the revolutions being Islamist-leaning, it remains that the Islamic factor in them remains strong for many reasons, including the repression inflicted upon the Islamists for many long decades. This is not to mention the minoritarian-majoritarian bipolarity that for long governed the composition of power and repression in the Arab societies, especially those of the Arab Levant.
Moreover, just like the appeal for a shift toward Bush’s policies were only met with isolationist attitudes in the West, especially in regard to the failure to reach out to its public opinion, the Western reluctance over intervention reinforced Jihadi influence over the revolutions, especially in Syria.
Thus, we have moved far beyond the days when the killing of bin Laden went unnoticed, and we are now facing a situation that is best described by the fact that the Free Syrian Army is caught between the army of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the regime’s army and its chemical weapons. Furthermore, it is now near impossible to merge the two confrontations, that is, the one fought by the U.S. against the Syrian regime and its Russian allies, and the one fought by the majority of the Syrian people against the regime.
Perhaps this grim picture is yet another chapter to be added to the voluminous book about the crisis of our relationship with the West and our understanding of it, and vice versa.