By: George Semaan
Those who were beating the war drums can now rest, as they will possibly have to wait for a few days, weeks, or even months. President Barack Obama might have adopted the decision to strike Syria, but just like Damascus – maybe – he will choose the right time! Hence, his partner David Cameron can breathe a sigh of relief, as he no longer needs to apologize to him and can even wipe off the slap, or rather the insult, addressed to him by the House of Commons when it refused to participate in the strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Indeed, a few days ago, he anxiously perceived the transformation of French President Francois Hollande into America’s European partner as a replacement for the traditional partner, Great Britain, or “the USA’s main geopolitical ally,” as described by President Vladimir Putin. Today, the leader of the Conservative Party can be reassured, after the American president chose to follow in his footsteps and head to Congress to get its approval.
President Obama could have headed to war without a mandate, while benefitting from a sixty-day period to go back to Congress and explain the reasons behind this war. Even when he decided to end his hesitation, he surprised many – who have long been waiting for him to act – by saying he needed more time. Was he betrayed by his courage or by the domestic and foreign positions? And when he decided to regain some of his credibility by changing the rules of the game, after the Syrian regime violated the red line, he linked that change to Congress. He thus turned his back to the United Nations and the Security Council labyrinth, but introduced his decision into the maze of internal partisan issues and divisions. Maybe he remembered – after some of his opponents refreshed his memory – that before entering the White House, he opposed the president’s adoption of critical decisions such as the war decision, without going back to Congress. Therefore, he decided to return to the American people’s representatives, 80% of whom insisted on a Congressional mandate according to the polls.
President Obama looked around him and found none of those who used to blame him for failing to practice his country’s leading role in the world. It is the complex generated by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, by the intervention in Somalia, and by the repercussions of these actions which do not require any explanation. But the Americans were not the only ones affected by this complex which also touched most of the Europeans. Hence, he was abandoned by many partners, who – only months and days ago – were urging him to strike this regime, under claims of respecting democracy and the voters’ opinion. This happened although some of these democracies seemed to be recanting their previous goals, for which they pushed the United Nations in the middle of the last decade to legitimize intervention in the internal affairs of other states if need be, in order to protect the civilians from genocide. But the ghost of the Afghan and Iraqi wars in particular was more present than the Syrian chemical file, both inside the House of Commons and throughout Europe.
The same is seen among the American people, more than half of whom oppose the launching of any new war. And if the Congress members decide to respect their voters’ wishes, this would mean the turning of the page of the strike, unless the president has guaranteed in advance the approval of the implementation of his decision by the Republican hawks, far away from internal wrangling. However, the latter had been demanding that he carries out a harsher action that would topple the Syrian regime, and are nowadays joking about the fact that he always reiterated his calls for the departure of President Al-Assad. So, how can he be planning a strike which he does not want, in order to change the balance of powers on the ground or topple the regime in Damascus, at a time when it is starting to threaten American national security and the US interests and allies in the region?!
Many blame the American president for his reluctance, even his shortcomings, when it came to numerous events, situations, and causes. At this level, his partners in the Pacific point to his position vis-à-vis North Korea, while his strategic ally Israel blames him for his excessive appeasement in the face of the Iranian nuclear file. And these blames will only increase. For their part, his Arab partners have reproached him (and still do) for his inability to respect his promises regarding the Palestinian cause and his submission to the arrogance of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, knowing that some of them blame him for his silence towards the developments in Syria and his leniency in the face of the challenges raised by Russia and Iran in this country.
Fateful decisions are linked to their timing, and the American president has already missed many opportunities which might not come around again. This is why many believe there is a problem affecting the command in Washington. And whether Obama implements his decision to strike or is let down by Congress, the circumstances that surrounded this decision have almost stripped it of any impact on the course of the Syrian crisis. Indeed, no war has ever provoked this much public controversy, which cost it the most important element in any field confrontation, i.e. the element of surprise. In addition, no war has ever benefitted from such commotion and threats emerging from all sides, as though Syria was truly the greatest challenge in today’s world, as stated by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. It is thus a pre-packaged war, almost an architectural work with a clear structure: It is punitive and cautionary, a surgical operation with clear goals that will not topple the regime, will not change the balance of powers on the ground, will hasten the political solution, and will lead to the Geneva 2 conference, among other descriptions. It is as though the opponent were required to get ready in advance to receive this strike, and its allies to remain calm as long as the goal is neither to change the regime nor the landmarks of the theater of operations!
The Syrian political and military opposition is entitled to express surprise towards President Obama’s granting President Al-Assad’s regime more time to get ready for the anticipated strike, to avoid massive losses or select the ways to respond with the help of its allies. It is also entitled to blame the world which has been and still is reluctant to salvage it, and to weep for its spring that has been surrounded by regional and international circumstances, complications, calculations, and interests. But should this opposition not ask itself why it has so far failed to promote its cause and convince the Western democracies to help it, two and a half years after the beginning of its revolution, the fall of more than 100,000 victims, all this destruction, and the displacement seen internally and abroad? Should it not ask itself why it has failed to convince the Friends of the Syrian People to help it and empower it politically and on the field? Has the time not come for accountability and changing all the policies that were adopted from the establishment of the National Alliance until that of the National Coalition? Or does the flaw only reside in its allies, which did not know how to align behind it like Moscow and Tehran are behind Damascus?
The talk about the American strike is no longer useful, whether Barack Obama implements his decision or is let down by Congress, as long as everyone – especially those wishing to sanction Al-Assad – are not convinced that the military solution is the right one for the Syrian crisis. Moreover, they expect the limited operation to warn him against reusing chemical weapons and push him to accept their conditions for a settlement during the Geneva 2 or Geneva 3 conference. For his part, the American president probably listened to the advice of some experienced American officers, who told him that no one could control the extent of war following its launching and that the strike may not remain limited to the Syrian arena if the Syrian regime were to stir the fire in the neighboring states. However, when Washington justified the beating of the intervention drums, it not only mentioned Damascus’ prevention from using internationally-prohibited weapons, but also its prevention from threatening American national security and its own neighbors, namely Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel as enumerated by Obama.
In any case, the limited strike or the well-studied surgical operation might leave Al-Assad wounded, and some even expect its consequences to push him towards further stringency and brutality in the face of his opponents. He might not find it necessary to use chemical weapons, if Washington – by beating the intervention drums – truly confirms that only the violation of the red line will push towards the changing of the rules of the game that has so far claimed countless lives. And while the world must await Congress’ position, the summit of the G20 leaders in Petersburg might constitute yet another stop. So will President Obama also get the necessary mandate from his partners? Will he convince President Vladimir Putin who came to him to postpone the delivery of S300 missiles to Syria for three years, thus preventing the master of Kremlin from coming out victorious as he did from the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in mid June?