Monday, January 6, 2014

Why Obama changed his Syrian policy

There are many conspiracy theories running around in the Middle East. People, politicians and pundits alike never take things at face value: They always imagine several layers of labyrinthine, convoluted, and cryptic explanations for events, always invoking what the "real" reason is for policies, assassinations, statements, etc. Just as people in the Middle East really believe that its was REALLY Israel, not Al-Qaeda, that engineered the September 11 attacks, in order to provoke the US into invading and destabilizing the Middle East. So the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was not REALLY an act of self-defense but a Zionist-concocted devious way of causing a rift between Muslims and the West, etc...

Given this mindset, many in the Arab world are cooking up insidious multi-layered explanatory schemes for the REAL reasons why Obama is refusing to help the Syrian rebels against Assad. In this piece, I posit myself as a pundit and provide such a convoluted explanation for this puzzle, without any evidence whatsoever other than the logic of my own thinking.

Simply put, Obama figured in the middle of the Syrian crisis - circa 2012-2013 - that he could leverage the crisis to solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem. What he did initially was the usual simplistic American way of approaching similar situations: Threaten with the use of force, and Assad will back down, and then force him out of office by the combined outside threat and popular thrust on the ground, as happened in Libya. Also, one needs to keep in mind that US foreign policy - despite all appearances of otherwise - is dictated by a single paramount objective: The security and interests of the State of Israel. So, when Obama looked a little more carefully at the Syrian chessboard, he saw who the real actors were. He basically saw Sunnis asking for help against non-Sunnis. Since the Sunnis are led by Saudi Arabia, Obama sought a tradeoff for assisting the Sunnis against Assad. He asked the Saudis to recognize the state of Israel and force the Palestinians to a compromise solution with Israel, in exchange of which the US will not only pressure Israel into accepting this solution, but also agree to the use of force in Syria to kick Assad out of office and otherwise enable a victory by the Syrian rebels.

The Saudis balked and refused the deal. They insisted on keeping the Syrian situation separate from the broader Middle East question. And that is when relations between the US and Saudi Arabia began deteriorating, and that is also when Obama washed his hands from the Syrian crisis. Once this proposal fell through, the US reverted back to the traditional peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and Kerry began his renewed efforts between the two parties. Meanwhile, on the Iranian front, the US kept giving assurances to Israel over a nuclear Iran and asking it to hold off on any impending attack by Israel against Iran's nuclear facilities, for the simple reason that it was waiting for the Saudi response. If the US had succeeded, then the bulk of the Arab and Islamic worlds would follow the Saudi leadership, leaving behind an isolated Iran without its Syrian and Lebanese extensions. An isolated Iran would thus be dealt with separately from the complicated Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian issues.

The Saudi rejection of the American plan changed things radically. The Saudis became angry at the Americans for wanting to couple a US anti-Assad stance with Saudi help on Israel-Palestine. By walking away from the threat of force in Syria, the American unleashed Saudi retaliation which has taken several forms: Increased funding for Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, and Saudi funding for the Lebanese Army (which is a puppet of Hezbollah), as though the Saudis were now funding BOTH sides in the Syrian conflict. The Saudi rejection of the American proposal made the Americans angry at the Saudis and found in it a justification for walking away from any military intervention in Syria against Assad, which in turn led to turning the Syrian issue into a simple chemical weapons control question, and to the rapprochement with Iran.

In sum, if this theory is true, then the only ones to blame for the stalemate in Syria are the Saudis. They were given the opportunity to isolate Iran, solve the Syrian crisis to the advantage of the Sunnis, prevent an Al-Qaeda resurgence in Syria, and most importantly contribute to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all.

Right now, the ascendancy of Iran in US foreign policy can be seen as a tectonic shift in that policy. No longer will the "friendship" between the US and the Saudis be over oil interests because those are really archaic considerations. The Americans no longer fear a cost to displeasing the Saudis, but instead they now demand concessions from the Saudis in exchange for this friendship. And to make this new policy more readily understood by the Saudis, the Americans have arranged for a rapprochement between themselves, Iran and Israel. Given that 21 Arab countries are in the throes of revolutions, Islamic upheavals, and long term instability, the Americans find it easier to deal with two regional superpowers, both potentially nuclear-armed, strategically hemming the Arab world: Iran and Israel. Just two countries to whom it can outsource American security interests without putting a single boot on the ground. The only two downsides to this: 1 - An insoluble Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which may continue to sputter on and off for a few more decades until there is no more Palestine to negotiate over (an Israeli supreme interest by which the US will certainly abide); and 2 - a simple coup or popular uprising in Iran could topple the theocracy overnight and render it an even stronger ally of the US. The Arabs, the Sunnis, the Saudis etc. will be busy for a few decades with their own social and political upheavals that they will not pose a threat to Israel or anyone for that matter.

The Syrian war could go on for several years, if not decades. This too will be to the advantage of the Americans who must snicker silently over their joy at seeing their two worst enemies - Islamic fundamentalists of the Shiite and Sunni brands, as well as Baathists and other dictatorship-prone "rebels" - bleed each another to death.

For those idiots - Tony Badran, Hanin Gahddar, Hussein Ibish, Michael Weiss, etc. - who keep writing angry verbiage (see Lebanon NOW at: against Obama for not helping the Syrian rebels, the above should be a plausible explanation for the Syrian status quo and it should temper your Saudi-paid drivel down to a reasonable pitch.

Hanibaal Atheos

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