Monday, April 30, 2012

Is The US Syria's Last Hope?

The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl writes that events indicate that the US is Indispensable but invisible in the Syrian crisis:
For a year, a chorus of pundits has been proclaiming that the Arab Spring has ushered in a new era in the Middle East in which the United States no longer is the “indispensable nation” Bill Clinton once described. Syria has proved them wrong.

To be sure, so far the evidence is a negative: the failure of the United Nations or Syria’s neighbors to stop the country’s slide into civil war in the absence of U.S. leadership. The case is nevertheless conclusive — because every other power or organization that aspired to step into the vacuum left by Washington has tried and failed to deliver in Damascus.
Consistent with the less than strong presence and leadership of the Obama administration in world affairs in general and in the Middle East in particular, Diehl's claim about the "indispensability" of the US is based on the process of elimination--basically, no other country is up to the task:
  • Turkey's Sunni government makes Syria's Christian and Kurdish--and Alawite minorities suspicious

  • The Arab League is undermined by Sectarian tensions: Sunni states Saudi Arabia and Qatar are thwarted by Shiite governments of Iraq and Lebanon, while attempts by the Gulf states to provide weapons to the Syrian opposition have gone nowhere.

  • Moscow has effectively prevented the UN Security Council from authorizing tougher sanctions or military intervention, but while Russia can supply the Syrian army with weapons and fuel--it is unable to stop the increasing chaos in Syria.

  • Kofi Annan has been ineffective--persuading the Security Council to send unarmed monitors to observe a cease-fire that never took effect and believing the lies of Assad.
That leaves the US, but that would require some very uncharacteristically active steps by Obama, whose administration prides itself on "leading from behind":
  • Proceed without authorization by the UN Security Council
  • Create a coalition with Turkey and other members of NATO--with the US leading in front.
  • Have US diplomats work with the Syrian opposition and ethic groups to create a plan for life after Assad
All this in an election year--a tall order from a president who according to polls is in for a tight race with Romney and therefore is unlikely to take any step that would further raise questions about his already weak record on foreign policy. After all, it's a lot easier to bully "allies" than to take military action against a ruthless dictator.

Diehl himself appears less than convinced by his own plan.
He concludes:
In other words, Obama would have to behave as if the United States were still what Bill Clinton understood it to be: the indispensable nation. [emphasis added]
As if?

If Diehl himself has doubts about the feasibility of such a plan, what are the chances of Obama getting on board?

Or perhaps Diehl has doubts not about the plan but about Obama's ability to take action.

In that case, Diehl has lots of company.

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