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March 25, 2013 • Volume XXV, Number 278
THE SYRIAN CRISIS, THE ARAB SPRING
AND OBAMA’S MIDDLE EAST POLICY
As the US and the West continue to stand by, Syrian deaths in the now over two-year-long civil war surpass 70,000, a million barely-provided for people are external refugees in the midst of a cold winter, and an additional two million are displaced and dispossessed internally.
What began as a spontaneous democratic protest against the Assad regime’s brutal oppression has long since turned into a complex confessional-tribal struggle. Rebel Sunni militias, increasingly dominated by Islamists like the al-Qaeda-related al-Nusra fighters with their suicide car-bombings, confront the minority regime’s well-armed Alawite forces and its ever-more-desperate aerial, artillery, and now missile bombing of civilian districts.
Syria is fast becoming what Thomas Hobbes described in his great Leviathan during the English seventeenth-century civil war, a bellum omnium contra omnes, a desperate, grinding war of all against all. Food is increasingly scarce, medical facilities non-existent; people are living in ruins and caves, and brutal massacres are becoming everyday occurences.
Indeed, critics and commentators are increasingly envisioning politicide, the destruction of the colonialist-created Syrian state and its reversion to the status quo ante, religiously- and tribally-based Sunni, Shiite and Alawite autonomous districts. (Indeed, even the small Kurdish community in the northeast is now armed and claiming autonomy.)
As the Russians and Chinese continue to block UN Security Council resolutions while Moscow and Teheran arm and re-supply Assad, the European Union maintains its arms embargo. America’s new Secretary of State, John Kerry—in what the US media are describing as a “major” new step--declared in Turkey on his first regional visit that Washington was now envisioning enhanced ($60 million), but still “non-lethal”, civilian aid.
His declaration went over like a wet balloon with the Syrian National Council, the loose grouping of “internal” rebel militias and “external” anti-Assad groups, desperately seeking anti-tank, anti-missile, and anti-aircraft weaponry. To the oft-repeated American mantra of “we don’t want weapons to get into the wrong (i.e., Islamist) hands, one SNC leader replied “we don’t care how long [the fighters’] beards are, as long as our women and children are not massacred”.
With the Arab Spring everywhere—from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya—moving from hope to tragedy, U.S. President Obama has moved away from “leading from behind” (Libya) to simply not leading at all. (And, as the Benghazi fiasco aftermath [or, better, non-aftermath] indicates, his increasingly clear post-re-election neo-isolationist foreign policy seems impervious to Republican censure or public concern.)
As Israel’s confrontation with an Iran increasingly close to nuclear break-out sharpens, American interest, and influence, in the Middle East is at a nadir, a low point not seen since the 1967 Six Days War. While making some positive foreign-policy noises (e.g., “We’ve got your back”, re Israel), substantial US presence is in fact everywhere—from Iraq and Afghanistan to Egypt and Syria—shrinking, along with an American military severely pressed by budget cuts before the current sequestration disaster.
To paraphrase the old adage, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make isolationist”. Obama may think he can, ignoring the rise of Islamists everywhere, turn away from the Middle East to focus on expanding his domestic liberal agenda, but--given the unstable nature of that region—he may be rudely surprised. As another aphorism has it, “You may not be interested in history, but it is interested in you”.
(Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director of the Canadian Institute
for Jewish Research, is Editor of the Daily Isranet Briefing)
Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Prof. David Pariser, Associate Director (Concordia University)
Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman (Department of Religion, Concordia University)
Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University)
Charles Daoust, Assistant Editor (The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Ber Lazarus (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)