Election year, Obama's personality, Iraq’s nightmares, Russia’s position and Jihadist phobia... all are reasons that could explain the extended lag in the American position toward supporting the people’s change in Syria.
Thousands of Syrians are taking up arms and valiantly fighting important battles, with simple light weapons. Although they have been fighting for a year, they have not yet been able to overthrow the regime, and not even taken hold of one major town, because, despite being a real popular revolution, it is orphaned. They have been fighting against one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Away from Damascus, the U.S. president is fighting on the fronts of the presidential elections that are only nine weeks away, and where he has a chance of being re-elected. This is why he will not dare to engage in any external operations as election day approaches. He fears that his intervention might be the cause of his defeat and the loss of his party.
On the other hand, there is the personality of Obama; it is obvious to everyone that Obama wants to distinguish himself and his presidency, in showing that he is not like his predecessor George W. Bush, and that he is against military interventions, especially after he withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq and still works on withdrawing from Afghanistan. He does not want to send his forces to fight in Syria or elsewhere. Obama's personality is different from Bush and others like Bill Clinton, who ventured into Yugoslavia and succeeded and then was engaged in fewer operations against Saddam in Iraq and others in Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan.
Obama wants Americans to go to the ballot box recalling that he is the one who caught their enemy, bin Laden. He does not want soldiers’ widows to protest against him on election day. Besides, his attitude does not focus on expansion of influence or fighting opponents around the world, since Obama is not enthusiastic towards foreign policy.
Although the U.S. State Department is waging a severe war of words against the Russians, there is no noteworthy difference between the two countries. The Russian government is eager to support Assad, and Russia is the reason behind the persistence of Assad’s regime, due its military, intelligence, and financial support, as well as fuel supply. This is the first time since the end of the Cold War that we see the U.S. afraid to enrage Russian authorities, even though overthrowing the Syrian regime is very important for the U.S. in the war on Iran.
Furthermore, there is the “Jihadists phobia” in which a lot has been written about the jihadists who flocked to Syria from around the world. Certainly, members of al-Qaeda are among them. However, it is a trend that may be found in any chaotic place like Libya, Somalia, northern Mali and Yemen. It is wrong to attribute the Syrian revolution to such persons with bad agendas that have nothing to do with the revolution of the Syrian people -- a people that searching for dignity and freedom, and not willing to unsettle the world.
I know that many Americans find a huge disparity between Arab calls upon the United States to intervene, and their previous calls that rejected any interference. They will say, “We are not a battalion in the Arab army that you can throw shoes at and then send invitation cards asking to defend you.” This inconsistency is due to the large size of the Arab world and its multiple viewpoints; it is going through a historic crisis, where people have overthrown disastrous regimes. Some of these regimes were the reason behind the disruption of the relationship with the U.S., such as Qaddafi’s, the Saleh regime in Yemen, and now Assad in Syria. In Syria’s case, two interests match: overthrowing al-Assad regime is the request of the Syrian people and the U.S.
In my opinion, the Americans who are turning their backs on the Syrian Revolution will lose the most popular case in the Arab world, which can narrow the gap between the two sides after the unsuccessful experience in Iraq. Syrians do not need soldiers. They just need qualitative anti-aircraft weapons and tanks, because they are fighting with light weapons at a time when the regime is heavily bombarding civilian neighborhoods without mercy. The Syrians have been fighting for a year without the participation of the neighbors, and without valuable support from major countries. But despite these hindrances, the end seems to be obvious: the fall of the regime, because the immense death and injury toll has generated hatred and a determination to overthrow it.
He who rides the Syrian revolution train, which will only stop in the center of the capital Damascus, will never be forgotten by younger generations. This is the truth for those who know the feelings of the region.
This column by the author, the General Manager of Al Arabiya, originally appeared in Arabic in the August 30, 2012 issue of Asharq al Awsat.