Friday, April 26, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler - 4/26/13: Will The US Go Into Syria -- On The Side of Assad?

by David Gerstman, contributing blogger at Legal Insurrection

Next in Syria

Why hasn't the United States acted more strongly against Bashar Assad? 
Read: on Assad's effort to sell his line to the US. Then this on why WH has already bought it:
— Tony Badran (@AcrossTheBay) April 25, 2013
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. 
The real game-changer in #Syria? Iran Told Hezbollah to Join Syrian War, Says
— Jackson Diehl (@JacksonDiehl) April 26, 2013
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.
How red does the chemical weapons red line in Syria have to be?
— Legal Insurrection (@LegInsurrection) April 25, 2013
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 more troubling part abt "red line" debate is that chemical weapons are a red line but the slaughter of 70,000 Syrians isn't.
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) April 25, 2013
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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