When the Egyptian uprising erupted, Washington, despite the initial confusion, chose to have President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and its military institution understand that the time for change had come, particularly that what can be considered as central authority institutions remained in Egypt.
It is true that the sense of citizenship was weakened and the concept of “civil state” was all but lost but something called Egypt remained. The Egyptian people, of different groups, continued to see themselves as Egyptians.
As a result, around two weeks later, the presidency of Hosni Mubarak ended. A new era began, although opinions vary in evaluating it and its makers have different perspectives on its identity.
International and regional commitments, even the commitment to Egyptian-Israeli treaties, did not help Mubarak’s regime. Tel Aviv, at least ostensibly, dealt with the Egyptian change as a domestic affair.
However, the situation with Syria’s revolution was different for both the United States and Israel. Barack Obama’s administration which welcomed the “Arab Spring” and supported the wheel of change dealt with the Syrian situation with two languages.
The first one was the idealistic-utopian language that stresses the people’s rights and democracy, without real tangible support for the change that was started inside Syria by its people whose grave sacrifices have been ongoing for almost two years.
The second language was the over-pragmatic one based on making a suggestion and then making an excuse to contradict it. Thus, the Obama administration justified standing idly amid the widespread massacres, suppression and the fall of “redlines” one after the other.
It is a known fact that the fabric of the Syrian society is different from that of the Egyptian, Tunisian and other Arab societies which witnessed the winds of change. Other known facts are the depth of the strategic relation between the Damascus and Tehran regimes, Israel’s satisfaction with the regional role played by the Syrian regime, particularly keeping the Golan front quiet, adopting policies that help increase sectarian attractions in the region, and last but not least planting wedges that have threatened Palestinian unity thus guaranteeing the Israeli right-wing overcoming any action related to the dream of establishing the Palestinian state.
On the other hand, Washington, throughout its administrations in the past few decades, has labelled Syria as a “sponsor of terrorism”, and has, at least ostensibly, viewed Syria’s relations with Iran and the effect of these relations on the Lebanese domestic situation, with displeasure bordering on hostility.
Washington’s silence over what the “Syrian situation” has reached may be justified with many excuses, including the U.S. economic and financial situation which drives any prudent politician to domestic affairs as his or her top priority. But there is a defect in Barack Obama’s own perspective of the Syrian crisis hiding far bigger defects. Indeed it is impossible to expect a real improvement or a huge shift in Obama’s approach during his second presidential term toward Syria, without taking into consideration the “bigger picture” which is much more important than merely changing the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense and the head of the CIA.
One of the most important factors is how Obama will deal with Russia over its private and strategic interests in Syria. All of Obama’s past and current actions indicate that he is not considering adopting a decisive policy of brinkmanship with Moscow regarding Damascus. This is what has led Russia to use its veto three times at the UN Security Council in order to protect the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Another factor which is no less important is that Obama, during the last four years, has proven that he was incapable of breaking away from Israel’s blackmail. This has been clear from his continued failure to keep his promise of a “Palestinian state” during his first term, and his total inability to stop the proliferation of illegal Israeli settlement. This means that as long as Israel believed that any change in Syria may pose a threat to its existence, it would be unlikely that Obama would do anything that contradicts Israel’s position of regime change in Damascus, therefore the suffering of the Syrian people may well continue.
This article was published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on Feb. 3, 2013.
(Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. Joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances, active in academic, social and charity work, and a former active member of the Labour Party in the UK.)