“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Im Westen nichts Neues) is a 1929 novel by the German writer Erich Maria Remarque that describes the German soldiers’ extreme physical and mental stress during the First World War and the detachment from civilian life felt by many of soldiers upon returning home from the front.
The present civil war situation in Syria could be very similar to that story. As in the book, returning to a normal life could be just as difficult for Syrians. The last debate before the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential elections held Oct. 23 between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney on world politics is an example.
The president said that “Syrians are going to have to determine their own future” and that it would be a heavy lift for the United States to get entangled militarily in the country, even though it was committed to the idea of President Bashar al-Assad stepping down. As for arming rebels in the country, he warned there that “we have to do so, making absolutely certain who we are helping, that we are not putting arms in the hands of folks who could eventually turn against us.
Romney criticized Obama for handing over too much responsibility to the United Nations and Russia. But while he demanded more American leadership on Syria, he did not outline exactly what he meant, save to rule out a military option. “We don’t have military involvement there. We don’t want to get drawn into military involvement there,” he said. “We should be playing the leadership role there. Not on the ground with military.”
Romney in the past has suggested arming rebels in Syria. In a November 2011 Republican primary debate, he outlined in specific terms what he would do with respect to a regime change. “This is the time for us to use not only sanctions, but covert actions within Syria to get regime change there,” Romney said at the time.
Obama had in mind the drawbacks of possibility of transfers of American arms to al-Qaida or other Salafist groups there, and Romney was also thinking about the same exact chances that his chief rival in the elections was mentioning.
The result is a “wait and see” policy. Romney is no more a supporter of Syrian opposition forces than Obama is. Then, of course, the neo-cons in the Romney camp do not endanger the policies of the Republican candidate in the form of a “transition to moderate politics,” as this writer has suggested a few times.
In other words, the change expected by many others in U.S. policies toward Syria will not take place. In this, Romney is no different from Obama. In the event of both men winning the presidency, the principle of “no military intervention to Syria” will remain in place. In American eyes, no one wants to see another Iraq war, and Romney is not a renewed George W. Bush. So they say “let’s wait and see what happens in time if the Salafists win the war, we will think of a solution then.”
Of course, the chances of al-Assad trying to control large swaths of ground, when his forces amount to only about 20 percent of the country’s population, are extremely slim in the long term. He will depend on Russia’s air support, if it makes much sense.
In the end, whatever is going to happen in Syria will happen. Blood will continue to spill. But this will be despite America’s presumed silence, and inflamed statements in between the stages of the Syrian civil war. Turkey should not wait for an American intervention.
Turkey will most probably act in a way to avert a Russian cut of natural gas at a time when the vicious winter of the Middle East is coming, or another Russian hostility that is now unseen.
(Ümit Engnsoy is a columnist at the Hurriyet Daily News. This article was published on Oct. 31, 2012)