Friday, 25 May 2012

Obama Walking a Fine Line in Syria

Ali Rizk

With the US presidential elections fast approaching, significant developments have taken place with respect to Washington's approach towards the ongoing unrest in Syria.

“Israel’s” Supporters Feltman, Lieberman in Lebanon to Topple Syria
The Washington Post published an article quoting US administration officials saying that the administration has decided to coordinate the sending of arms to the Syrian armed groups. While high ranking US officials denied Washington's involvement in sending any "lethal assistance" to the Syrian opposition, sources in Washington say that there is indeed a change in the Obama administrations' policy towards Syria which had previously rejected the assistance of the Syrian opposition, with administration officials citing the presence of al-Qaeda amongst this opposition.

These sources say that Washington is now pursuing a policy of providing non-lethal, but also NON HUMANITARIAN AID to the armed elements. According to the sources, it is the voices of hawkish right wing pro "Israelis" like Senator John Mccain and Senator Joseph Lieberman which had an effect in forcing a change in the Obama administration's approach from complete reluctance to assisting the Syrian opposition to an apparently more flexible stance. It is important here to take a look at an opinion piece written by Lieberman in which he argues strongly for more US involvement to topple Assad including US airstrikes. Lieberman also says the following about more US involvement in the Syrian file:
"Some reports suggest such an effort is at least beginning to ramp up. If so, this would be a welcome development, and it deserves strong support from Congress".
Lieberman recently visited the Middle East, making stops in three countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon. The first two countries (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) have been the strongest supporters of arming the Syrian opposition. Western diplomats have said this bluntly and the very same Washington Post article which speaks of US coordination in sending arms also states that this coordination is being done with Saudi Arabia and Qatar and that both these Persian Gulf countries have decided to pay millions of dollars in funding each month to the Syrian armed groups.

The third country (which is Lebanon) is right on the border with Syria. During his two day stop in Lebanon Lieberman actually paid a visit to this area. Here note another quote from Lieberman's op ed:
"establish safe zones along Syria's borders so the opposition can organize inside their country".
If we take a look at the sequence of events, following Lieberman's visit a ship carrying arms was intercepted in Lebanon's northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Next came the all-out chaos which erupted in that city (and is not totally under control yet) and the emergence of large numbers of armed Salafists known for their hostility towards Bashar Assad, amid reports of the presence of members of the so called "Free Syrian Army" also in the North and in the city of Tripoli.
jaafari UN
‘Some Lebanese
Incubating Terrorist Elements against Syria’
In a letter to UN chief Ban Ki- Moon , Syria's envoy to the UN Bashar Jaafari spoke of the stockpiling of arms on Lebanon's borders with Syria, together with the presence of terrorists in Lebanon who are trying to disrupt the six point plan of Kofi Annan, and even of the presence of the head of the "Free Syrian Army" Riad Al-Assad" in Lebanon.

Putting the facts together it is isn't too difficult to see a high level of coordination between "Israel" and its friends in Washington and specifically on Capitol Hill on one hand and some Arab Persian Gulf states on the other.(Of course it goes without saying now that "Israel" supports Assad's demise .This was made clear by the head of "Israeli" military intelligence Aviv Kochavi who recently made a secret visit to Washington and bluntly stated that the fall of Assad is something which serves "Israel". Ehud Barak also expressed his frustration that the Assad regime has yet to collapse). To put it bluntly here, there is bigger coordination and convergence in approaches between "Israel" and some Gulf states this time even than there is between "Israel" and Washington.

"Israel" , via its friends in congress, together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar are attempting to lobby the American administration into a more confrontational approach with Damascus.

This lobbying is coming in election season, which could explain why it may have made some inroads thus far. And as the race to the white house nears and intensifies, Obama may also give in more to those voices calling for a more confrontational approach.

But then again he may not. Although he will face pressure from "Israel" and its allies in congress, Obama has rarely missed an opportunity to speak to the American people of what is probably his biggest achievement since he became president:

" the killing of Osama Bin Laden".

This achievement, together with Obama's withdraw from the unpopular war on Iraq give Obama strong credentials when it comes to foreign policy according to prominent experts in Washington. These experts, who are familiar with what goes on in policy circles in the White House say that it is foreign policy which is Obama's main strength and that Obama wants to keep it that way. They add that any deeper involvement on Washington's part in Syria could destabilize the region and tarnish his foreign policy record. The war on Afghanistan and on al-Qaeda is "Obama's war" and as he continues to wage this war in Afghanistan and also in countries like Yemen it does indeed appear irrational if he were to seriously get involved in assisting al-Qaeda in Syria (high ranking American officials like US secretary of state Clinton and secretary of war Panetta have actually implied at this irrationality and Ban Ki-Moon is the latest in a stream of officials who have confirmed Al-Qaeda's STRONG PRESENCE in Syria).

So what remains to be seen is who will prevail: the rational or the irrational voices?

From now until the US elections, Obama will probably walk a fine line between both, hence the ambiguous terms of "coordinating but not supplying arms" and providing "non lethal but also non humanitarian aid" But what seems to be clear is that the rational voice is that which takes into consideration US interests and the irrational is that which is being heard from US allies, be they "Israel" or others.


River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  
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