Election Won't Alter U.S. Course in Syria

Source: Getty
Op-Ed Asia Times
Summary
Neither President Obama nor Governor Romney appear to have a clear policy for convincing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down nor have they explained what the future of Syria should be.
Related Topics
Related Media and Tools
 

Both US President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger in the upcoming presidential election, Mitt Romney, have repeatedly called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Neither appears to have a clear policy for achieving that goal nor have they explained what the future of Syria should be. 

The situation is certainly complex. Syria is plagued by massive and overlapping problems ranging from sectarianism, Islamification and ethnic conflict to its relationship with non-state actors like Hezbollah and allies like Iran. Syrians want to believe that the crisis in their country is a high priority for the White House. It is important, no doubt, but by no means is it urgent for the United States. This is clear from the fact that the Syrian nightmare has dragged on for 20 months already. 

The US candidates seem to advocate different approaches. In their final television debate, Romney said he wants to ensure the Syrian opposition has the arms necessary to defend themselves and remove Assad from power. He argued that he does not think it would be necessary to intervene directly in Syria, claiming that America's allies can do the job if given the right weapons. Meanwhile, Obama stressed the need to be very sure who the United States is helping before giving heavy weapons to the rebels. He criticized Romney's stance on weapons, arguing that they could be used "against us". 

US decision-makers fear unsolicited arms on the streets of Syria making their way into the hands of al-Qaeda or Palestinian militants. A consistent argument has emerged in the US press in recent months, focusing on the Islamist nature of some elements of the Syrian insurgency. Many within Syria argue that the September attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi and murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens actually forced the Obama administration to re-think its policies towards Syria, as it raised fears over chaos in a power transition and the rise of radical Islamist elements in the Syrian underground. 

The Obama administration's latest effort on Syria was putting together a new coalition, headed by former parliamentarian Riad Seif, called the Syrian National Initiative. The broad coalition, which will include all members of the Syrian opposition inside Syria and of the once-high-profile Syrian National Council (SNC), is meeting in Qatar to discuss the council's future among other issues. 

Referred to as the Riad Seif plan, the council initiative was developed with the help of the US State Department. The council would be ready to work with a new US administration as soon as it comes into office in January. US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, a good friend of Riad Seif, is expected to attend the meeting in Doha. 

Washington is clearly fed up with the SNC's inability to unite the Syrian opposition or establish a firm base in Syria itself. Among other things, it has failed to attract Alawites into its ranks and is plagued by political bickering and high-profile walk-outs of senior members like Haitham al-Maleh and Bassma Koudmani. In May and July 2012, two SNC visits to Washington were called off at the last minute. 

The Obama team views the new coalition as a potential interim government that can serve as a proper interlocutor for the international community and eventually sit down for talks on the Syrian transition with the regime itself. It highlights the Obama administration's preference for a political solution in Syria rather than simply sending arms to the rebels. 

Obama and his allies have staged high-profile conferences and showered the rebels with praise but, until now, have fallen short of taking the pressure a step higher. The international community led by the United States has failed - three times - at passing a UN resolution against Syria, thanks to a double Russian-Chinese veto. In Syria itself, the rebels are fed up with the Obama administration's sweeping statements and lack of action. If the Riad Seif Plan carries real substance; that of course can change. 

It had been hoped that the Turkish parliamentary election in the summer of 2011 would be a game-changer with the conclusive victory handed to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expected to give him the impetus to put his firm words into action. When that did not happen, the focus turned to the French, waiting for President Francois Hollande to replace Nicolas Sarkozy. When nothing happened, hopes were pinned on Russia, saying that Russia's position would change once Vladimir Putin returned to power. 

Now all eyes are set on the upcoming US election on November 6. Regardless of whether the incumbent Obama or Romney wins, both will have to deal with the reality of the Riad Seif plan, which the Obama administration will sign off before sealing its final, or first, term in office. Still, it seems unlikely that Syria will be at the top of either man's agenda after November 6. 

A version of this article was originally published in the Asia Times.

End of document

Comments

 
Source http://carnegie-mec.org/2012/11/05/election-won-t-alter-u.s.-course-in-syria/eejw

Syria in Crisis

More from The Global Think Tank

Publication Resources

In Fact

 

45%

of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.

30%

of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.

140

charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.

2.5–5

thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.

92%

of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.

$2.34

trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.

37%

of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.

72%

of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.

90%

of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.

13%

of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.

17

U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.

40%

of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.

120

million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.

60–70%

of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.

58%

of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.

67%

of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.

50%

of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.

18%

of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.

81%

of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.

32

million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3

Syrians

now needs urgent assistance.

370

political parties

contested India’s last national elections.

70%

of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.

70%

of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.

20%

of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.

58%

of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.

$536

billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.

$100

billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.

4700%

increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.

$11

billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

2%

of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.

78

journalists

were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address in the field below to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
 
 
Carnegie Middle East Center
 
Emir Bechir Street, Lazarieh Tower Bldg. No. 2026 1210, 5th flr. Downtown Beirut, P.O.Box 11-1061 Riad El Solh, Lebanon
Phone: +961 1 99 12 91 Fax: +961 1 99 15 91
Please note...

You are leaving the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy's website and entering another Carnegie global site.

请注意...

你将离开清华—卡内基中心网站,进入卡内基其他全球中心的网站。