In a speech laden with eloquent, almost philosophical, phrases, Barrack Obama said that the United States is always preoccupied with its domestic affairs.
This speech, with which Obama inaugurated his second term in office, reminded us of one of the most prominent facts in the American politics, that Democrats are generally more isolated and less interventional than their Republican rivals. Even the Iranian nuclear file is more likely to be dealt with through containment rather confrontation and John Kerry’s testimony is not enough to convince us to believe otherwise. Since we are talking about Iran, we are also reminded of another democratic administration headed by Jimmy Carter whose focus on human rights led, according to his many critics, to the fall of one of Washington’s closest allies: the Shah of Iran.
Analysis based on solid geographical and political calculations indicated that Carter would do anything but allow the Shah to fall, for he lives south of the Soviet Union at a time when the Cold War was at its peak. Those who adopted this view referred to the experience with Mohamed Mosaddaq in 1953 when American intervention during the Eisenhower administration reached the initiation of a military coup staged by General Zahidi, an idea that was previously rejected by Truman’s Democratic administration.
If we continue with this logic, we will find that the best formula Washington can reach will be combining moral and political support for the Syrian revolution, which costs nothing, with actual action against AlNusra and its sister groups
The same kind of solid geographical and political calculations would indicate that Obama has to intervene in Syria, if not for humanitarian reasons, then for severing the ties that link Iran to the Levant. The toppling of Bashar al-Assad would be doing a great favor for Washington, which in turn has to respond with a similar favor.
But this is not the case.
Obama is forever enthusiastic about hunting down al-Qaeda or preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons. This, in American politics and after September 11 and other terrorist operations like the ones carried out in Madrid and London, is a domestic and not an external affair. True, Obama believes that combating terror should not lead to other wars like the ones in which his predecessor George W. Bush was dragged, but it should still continue with the same force even if through other tools like remote bases, local allies, and drone attacks.
What can be concluded from the comparison between the U.S. stance on Syria and Iran on one hand and its stance on al-Qaeda is that the external needs to turn into domestic in order for the United States to intervene. This, at least, will be Obama’s policy for the coming four years and will be easier to implement now since the president is already in his second term and will not run in election again, thus is less prone to blackmail.
In addition to its humanitarian drawbacks especially when applied to lack of interest in the fate of the Syrian people, this equation remains short-sighted especially when adopted by the United States, the country most known for the entanglement of the domestic with the external. If we apply this equation on Syria, we will be facing a disastrous outcome and will have to examine the revolutionary powers in Syria. The part of the Syrian revolution that is prone to becoming external is that related to al-Nusra Front and its likes because, according to the United States and to the impression the Syrian regime has been trying to give to the world, those groups are categorized under terrorism.
If we continue with this logic, we will find that the best formula Washington can reach will be combining moral and political support for the Syrian revolution, which costs nothing, with actual action against al-Nusra and its sister groups.
Such a bleak situation would most probably necessitate the presence of political creativity, whose tools do not seem to be always available, in the light of the view that the revolution alone will not be able to topple a regime that is strongly supported by Russia and Iran.
It is unacceptable that an organization like al-Nusra Front manages to become an American preoccupation while the Syrian revolution does not. Something is wrong here and justification will not succeed in making it right.
This article was published on al-Hayat Newspaper on Jan. Jan. 26, 2013.
Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at al-Hayat daily. He grew up in Lebanon during the golden age of pan-Arabism. Saghieh’s vision of a united Arab world was shattered when the Israelis emerged victorious from the 1967 war. Twitter: @HazemSaghieh
Last Update: Tuesday, 12 March 2013 KSA 11:59 – GMT 08:59
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