Hussain Abdul-Hussain

America’s excuses on Syria

Obama wishes the war in Syria would just go away. (AFP photo)

Since the outbreak of the Syrian war in March 2011, the Obama administration has wished it would just go away. It took the US president five months to call on Bashar al-Assad to get out of the way of reform, as if Syrians were revolting against 40 years of not-so-transparent government, rather than violent oppression. And that’s not the worst part. Obama's call to Assad came after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, like her successor John Kerry, had “renewed” her faith in the Syrian dictator's ability, and willingness, to reform.


That would have meant something had the administration followed up its call to Assad to embrace reform with further action. But it has not. Whenever asked about Syria, US officials dance around questions and offer lame excuses.


To look smart, however, the administration has projected an image of taking its time before putting its F-16s up in the air. "I have to weigh" the many factors, Obama told The New Republic, while Kerry talked about a policy review, due in the spring, that should offer Washington a course of action on Syria.


To employ Vice President Joe Biden's favorite word, Obama's Syria policy is pure "malarkey."


When US officials are done "weighing" and "assessing," they might realize that "dialogue" and "political transition" will never fly. Russia used these terms to cover for Assad's crimes. Assad reluctantly endorsed them under pressure from Moscow, and Washington later made them international policy to hide Obama's unwillingness to go beyond diplomatic chatter.


So far, Assad believes his mechanized elite forces can fight for another decade, during which world mood might change, giving him a chance to come back in from the cold. This is the Assad regime template: run down the clock until circumstances change, then make a comeback.


By the same token, rebels believe time is on their side. They think that with strained resources and eroded forces, Assad is slowly weakening. This is partially true, given that regime forces have failed to mount any significant counteroffensive to retrieve lost land after having lost an airport here and a power plant there.


Kerry knows this and said it in his confirmation hearing. None of the Syrian parties will stop fighting because they all think they can win. So it is a stalemate, with carnage and daily loss of human life and massive displacement.


But what if the deadlock is broken?


What if Assad emerges victorious, even if limping? Unlike previous times, it will be hard for Assad to regain his prized membership in the Arab League and world organizations. He will be presiding over a war-ravaged Syria with failing infrastructure and without resources to reconstruct or reconcile.


Assad will become a full pariah. He will be completely downgraded from an Iranian ally to a subordinate, thus boosting Tehran's power from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean. And having defeated its Arab rivals for the second time in a decade in Syria after Iraq, Iran's stature will grow substantially, much to the detriment of America's Middle Eastern allies.


And what happens if Assad loses? The strongest of the rebels, so far the radical Islamists (as the more secular ones have been starved of arms and money) will rule Damascus. Syria will become another failed state and will harbor terrorists.


The Obama administration has an app for that: drones. The more terrorists multiply, the more pilots with joysticks the US military will hire to hunt them down on their rooftops, in their cars or even in their beds with their wives.


So, from the administration's point of view, a bloody deadlock, an Assad victory with some retreat for America's allies or a rebel victory with a consequent failed Syrian state can all be tolerated.


But are drones enough to keep America safe? Or are they like cutting Hydra heads, the more you slash the more numerous they grow? And if the number of terrorists keeps growing, what if one of them finds his way to the United States?


What might be better for America than sitting out the Syrian war and later dealing with its consequences is if the US tries to shape the outcome in its favor.


Washington likes to think that its tools are humanitarian aid, diplomacy, and intelligence. While impressive, none of these are effective enough to influence Syrian events.


The only effective American tool would be pounding Assad from the air to weaken him significantly and give rebels a chance to replace him, just like in Libya. If – like in Libya – a mess follows, it will be measured against the current mess, and no one will blame America for it.


America may also want someone to foot the bill for all the tomahawks and F-16 sorties: Enter the Friends of Syria, who have been generous enough with the embattled refugees.


Finally, for an air intervention to be worthwhile, serious Syrian friends of the United States should step up, ask for the US to lend a hand in toppling Assad, publically express gratitude post-Assad, then work on developing a friendship between Washington and the future Syrian government.


If American air intervention can buy Syrian friendship, can be paid for by other countries, can move Syria from its current mess to an improved mess, can put the country on the track of a long journey toward democracy, and can take out Iran ally and regional trouble-maker Bashar al-Assad, then intervention will make sense for Washington. Just ask James Baker how he did it in 1991.


If the answers to any of these questions is no, then America can keep hunkering down, consider expanding its drone attack map to include Syria, and hope that by sitting on the fence, opponents will forget America exists on the world stage and thus spare it their terrorist attacks. But for such a policy, America will need many more, and smarter, excuses.


Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai. He tweets at @hahussain

Obama wishes the war in Syria would just go away. (AFP photo)

"The only effective American tool would be pounding Assad from the air to weaken him significantly and give rebels a chance to replace him, just like in Libya."

  • hod

    Proud of you dear student Hoda ATTAL

    February 19, 2013

  • stwair


    February 18, 2013

  • NotSure1

    I agree with Hussain since the outbreak there is something fishy going on regarding Syria. If they really want to do it and topple Bashar, it would have been done by now. Whether it is the Arabs, Israel or the west, Syria dilemma actually opened our eyes on many double standards from all countries. Not only had they danced around the question on Syria. The volume of the music was so high we didn’t even hear what they are saying. Whether it was Clinton, China, Turkey, etc. although it is obvious, I always said and still say that there is something mysterious regarding Syria. What is it? Who knows? I even felt all countries felt relief when Russia and China used the vetoes. Bashar may come back; and I think that’s the plan. He is for some reason loved. I disagree that he will not regain membership in the Arab world or world organization. They can manufacture incident, and reasons to bring him back. And I think they are working on it now.

    February 17, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    "Opening your eyes" is an admission of your own naivete and a contradiction of your other statement that the West does not interfere unless it has something to gain. Double standards? I think not. The West may like Assad, but it does not want to pay the price of getting rid of him. National interests are not - to your innocent eyes - black and white. I might agree with you that Assad might still serve a purpose for the West, as he has for several decades. That purpose is to protect Israel, allow it to continue pilfering Palestinian land by maintaining the status quo, drag Lebanon into becoming a substitute Palestine.... The key question is: If Assad is removed, what will replace him? A democratic Syria? or a cesspool of Islamic fundamentalism as we are witnessing in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt.... Given these two choices, I understand why the West has no intention of stepping in.

    February 17, 2013

  • NotSure1

    Yes opening our eyes Hannibal. I admit I was naive. I thought it is either black or white. Now I know there are many shades of gray. light, dark medium gray etc. and seeing what’s going on regarding Syria, I started having some gray hair. Anyway, it is not a bad thing to open your eyes. The worse; keeping them closed and blind. It is fine with me if, as you said, the western learn their lesson from backstabbing, but why skip Syria then and start making the same mistake in Mali? Therefore, your back stabbing conclusion is wrong. And regarding your key question, if Assad is removed, what will replace him? The answer is of course not a democratic Syria. Are you kidding? There is no democracy in any Arab country or Persian (I had to put Iran on propose you know:), and speaking of naive, forget learning a lesson, do you think just you and I asked this question? who will replace whom? The naive US and West didn’t ask who will replace Mubarak, Qaddafi, and Saddam.etc. Probably more to come. Don’t you think it was obvious?

    February 21, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    As a matter of fact, the Kuwaitis, for whom Mr. Abdul-Hussain works for, are themselves guilty of the same treachery. They were saved from the claws of Saddam Hussein by a US intervention and today harbor no love whatsoever for the US or the West. In the past 20 or so years since the liberation of Kuwait, Kuwait had actually stepped backwards from modernization, from women's rights, from human rights violations, and is today a clone of fundamentalist Wahhabi Saudi Arabia.

    February 15, 2013

  • NotSure1

    Hanibaal; are you serious? Treasury? Turn against you after the mission is over? Are you for real? Do you think the heads of innocent Westerners did good deeds for nothing? Do you think all the countries that helped just carried weapons and forgot the documents for Kuwait and Iraq to sign? And how many scandals you need to know what’s on the surface may not be the truth? Ex, from helping Saddam against Iran to Iran Contra and more. Politics or personal, it is very logical that if my country is threatened by or any religion, I will side with whatever benefits me, whhab, Israel or others if needed. I am sure you heard of the saying the lesser devil. Although there are more religions in the US than the Arab world, unlike the US, the Arabs cannot take care of their problems, simply because religion and government are linked. Plus there are no weapons in their hand. It seems they have no other choice but to depend on the west. We are not backstabbing Obama, I like him but I want a straight forward and honest answer to why? Then I will shut up, of course after making few comments on the answer : ) and the friends who are in disguise are those who met supposedly as “friends of Syria”. The countries you mentioned, including Lebanon, didn’t ask for help, yet the Syrians did ask for help and they still didn’t get it. In the Middle East you have two options, either Sunni or Shia, so pick and chose. Like you said Allah akhbar or Ali. And if you don’t believe in the conspiracy theory and demolitions of buildings, facts...etc, and you think the attack on 9-11 was real, that’s a whole different story.

    February 17, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    No one does nothing for nothing. But I have yet to hear one decent Arab or Muslim express a modicum of thanks to the West, be it the US, Europe, NATO, or the UN, after these westerners came to rescue their hides. The West has interests to protect, of course. But so do the Arabs. The historical fact is that if the West intervenes, it ends up portrayed as imperialist and colonialist, and not as a savior or a hero. No weapons in the hands of the Arabs? What is Saudi Arabia doing with its 500 jet fighters it has been buying from the West for the past several decades? Where is all the wealth that these incompetent barbarians has amassed ... why don;t they use it to help their Syrian brethren? Why don;t put together an Arab-League Force. Even the Africans have set up such forces within the African Union... LEBANON in 1982 did ask for help from the US and the Europeans to come separate Israel and the PLO... Two years later, the Sunnis, the Druse, and particularly the Shiites turned against them and bombed them out of Beirut, along with embassies, teachers, clergymen.... So the US is learning not to trust backstabbing Arabs... Let the Syrians liberate themselves: It is more honorable for them to free themselves than have to owe the imperlialists, the colonialists, the Zionists, the sons of apes and pigs, the Crusaders...... the debt of having liberated them from the monster they - the Syrians - have created for 50 years. It is their fault. They should pay the price for getting themselves out of the mess they find themsleves in today.

    February 17, 2013

  • NotSure1

    Whoever came up with the word: Arab spring was damm wrong. Although no democracy, the Iraqis were living better under Saddam than today and so is in Egypt, Libya, Tunis etc. So stop saying the west is helping and if you are expecting a thank you card to the US Europe, NATO or UN don’t count on it. Give me one Arab country where the West interfered and things are better. None. And to clear this up for you, regarding possession of weapons, I meant religious groups in the US don’t own weapons. I didn’t mean country. Of course Saudi can buy 500 jet fighters. They can do whatever they want. Melt them and make a nice statue if they want. But a group like HA or others. Although it is a good idea, don’t ask for unions and Arab league stuff; we are now familiar with their dedication and accomplishments. Actually, I forgot they exist, I haven’t heard anything lately. I agree Lebanon asked for help to separate Israel and Palestinians in 82 but not to help to control or end the Lebanese chaos then. As for the crusaders and Zionist, I really don’t dwell on history. Worse things are happening now. Yet, it is a good idea to follow prophet Mohammad footsteps and make a peace treaty with the Jews as he did. Zionist are not the sons of apes, they were human supposedly but transformed as punishment. Why they were not transformed into whales or giraffes? I have no idea. But since you brought religion up, I think now I know why Bashar is protected; he is either the Mehdi or the coming of Christ.

    February 21, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Mr. Abdul-Hussain won't give up badgering the US to rush to the rescue of his Sunni brethren in Syria, when he will be the first one to denounce US imperialism and neo-colonialism as soon as the US completes getting rid of the Syrian regime. We have seen it happen in Iraq, in Somalia, and indeed in Lebanon back in 1982-1983. It is time for Arabs to take care of their own problems by themselves little grown-ups, and stop the dependency on the West followed by backstabbing. President Obama: Do not listen to your enemies, now disguised as friends because they need your help, only to turn against you as soon as you and your soldiers complete the mission. Do not come to the rescue of the Syrian opposition; most of it is the Allahu-Akbar crowd of Al-Qaeda vintage who attacked the US on 9-11 and who want to turn Syria into a new cesspool of Sunni fundamentalism. If these cowards had any mojo, they would fight the Syrian regime without begging the West for help, and they would be willing to pay the price with their own blood and not the blood of innocent Westerners.

    February 15, 2013