Jun 23rd 2013

Contrasting Strategies, Same Results

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Whereas former President Bush and President Obama are ideologically a world apart, their policies toward Middle Eastern conflicts produced the same damning reaction. Bush’s misguided war in Iraq and its consequences, and Obama’s diffidence toward the slaughter in Syria and his excessively misplaced caution over US involvement in another Arab country, evoked similar waves of criticism and resentment from the Arab world toward the US.

This is not to suggest that Obama should have been quick on the draw and engaged Assad’s forces directly at the onset of the violent eruption. Yet bearing witness to the unfolding tragedy and the slaughter of more than 100,000 men, women, and children, and five million Syriansbecoming refugees or internally displaced, is simply unconscionable.

This also flies in the face of Obama’s moral and political principles that he has frequently preached while dangerously eroding America’s credibility in the eyes of its friends and foes alike.

Having inherited the disastrous effects of the Iraq war both domestically and in the region, it is only natural for President Obama to be extremely cautious before engaging in another violent conflict, albeit without needing any boots on the ground, especially against another Arab country.

But we must distinguish between the misguided Iraq war and the indiscriminately gruesome killings of Syrian civilians by a ruthless dictator and his criminal gangs.

The Iraq war should be instructive and we must avoid such misadventures in the future. But as the global leader, America cannot shirk its responsibility when gross crimes against humanity are committed in Syria and be paralyzed to act because of the Iraq experience.

The President’s decision to finally provide the rebels with certain light weapons, which came in the wake of proving that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, will change little in the eyes of our allies and enemies alike.

Their perception of Obama’s indecisiveness and lack of leadership has already been formed and the damage to his credibility will linger for the remainder of his second term.

Our allies in the Gulf, Jordan, and other Arab states have expressed serious concerns about the US’ real commitment to their national security. Top officials, the academic community and multitudes of ordinary people in the region are perplexed about Obama’s unseemly behavior.

They see the glaring contradiction between his lofty speeches about freedom and democracy and his abandonment of these principles when they are perceived to be inconsistent with America’s national interests.

Iran has been carefully studying Obama’s inaction and vacillation and has concluded that it can openly support Assad by providing him with lethal weapons, material, advisers, and money and encourage volunteers to join the fighting and do so with impunity.

Under these circumstances, how seriously will Tehran take Obama’s threats to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons when his fickleness, from their perspective, is on display?

The fact that he rejected the advice of his entire national security team, toward the end of his first term, to provide the rebels with the type of weapons that could turn the tide in their favor only further encouraged Tehran to directly interfere without fear of US reprisal.

Would Hezbollah have sent thousands of its best fighters to battle alongside Assad’s forces against the rebels if they believed there would be serious consequences for their direct involvement, resulting in far more serious losses?

Would Iraq have continued to allow flights of Iranian aircrafts over its territory, sending thousands of tons of military equipment, munitions, and other essential supplies to keep Assad’s forces fully equipped to fight “till victory?”

Sensing a lack of resolve and unprincipled leadership, Russian President Putin was more than eager to challenge the US on its own turf while anticipating a feeble reaction at best.

Otherwise, would Russia continue to provide Assad with the most sophisticated military hardware, presumably “under old contracts,” in the height of the fighting while hypocritically demanding that no weapons should be supplied to the rebels and no outside power should interfere in Syria’s internal conflict?

Many Israelis also wonder whether President Obama will indeed take military action, as he pledged to in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, or settle for containment once Tehran reaches the point of no return (i.e. the ability to assemble nuclear weapons in short order).

As the Israelis survey the deteriorating situation in Syria and the US’ reaction, will they entrust their national security to a President whose actions thus far have not matched his rhetoric?

Why would America’s allies take for granted the administration’s word when “red lines” arecrossed, for example in connection with the use of chemical weapons by Assad against civilians? Ironically, the exhaustive investigation that followed, presumably to ascertain the actual use of chemical weapons was superfluous because the administration has already established the fact of their use a few weeks earlier.

It is one thing to deny the rebels the weapons needed if there was an American strategy in place that would lead to a specific desirable outcome. Sadly, however, that was not the case.

The administration has repeatedly predicted that Assad’s days are numbered, but there was no framework in place not only on how to aid the rebels to accelerate Assad’s ouster, but what role the US could play to shape the new political order that would emerge post-Assad.

Twice before, major efforts were made to find a political solution supported by the US, the UN, the Arab League, and even Russia. Two distinguished diplomats, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Foreign Minister of Algeria Lakhdar Brahimi, were assigned to the task, and twice their tireless efforts failed.

What makes the US believe that another such effort will, at this juncture, succeed when the death toll in Syria continues to mount, the country is systematically destroyed, and the stakes for Assad and the rebels are becoming higher? Neither side could conceive of a political solution that of necessity requires full cooperation between them.

Having lost so much ground in recent days, the rebels justifiably are refusing to enter negotiations in the search for a political solution from a position of weakness.

Conversely, by making significant gains with the full support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, Assad has no incentive to negotiate in earnest as long as he believes he can now crush the rebellion and maintain his grip on power.

The highly anticipated meeting of the G8 in Northern Ireland has yielded nothing more than the same empty rhetoric. Notwithstanding the prior agreement between Russia and the US to convene a conference of all the concerned parties to find a political solution, no date has yet been established. And if the conference ever convenes, it will more than likely meet the same fate as previous efforts.

Meanwhile, Syria is disintegrating along sectarian lines and every day that passes makes it ever more difficult to piece it together.

Syria has become the battleground between Sunnis and Shiites, between Russia and the US, and may well engulf (in one form or another) its neighboring countries, namely Israel, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Being that Syria was ripe for a rebellion against a heartless regime run by the Assad family for more than four decades, one cannot place the entire blame on the US.

That said, the lack of US leadership and resolve to stem the conflict at the onset offered America’s enemies a golden opportunity to exploit the conflict to their advantage while leaving America’s allies anxious about the future. Sadly, even America’s Western allies no longer feel obliged to follow the US’ lead, and Obama’s ability to reach a consensus has become limited.

Bush’s brazen and misguided Iraq war, which handed the country on a golden platter to Iran and allowed it to consolidate its regional influence exponentially, is akin to Obama’s reluctance to aid the Syrian rebels militarily and in a timely fashion.

Both Presidents have by their own action strengthened America’s enemies and made its allies increasingly vulnerable to current and future national security concerns.

Syria is on the verge of disintegration, but perhaps there still time for Obama to try to turn the tide and rescue the Syrian people from Assad’s killing machine while redeeming America’s credibility, which remains central to the region’s security and future stability.

Now that the President has agreed to provide the rebels with arms, it should not be done piecemeal but urgently and with the required quantity, including critical weapons such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. This could quickly change the fighting dynamic on the ground in favor of the rebels and deny Assad any hope of prevailing.

---------------------------

Facts & Arts is a platform for owners of high quality content to distribute their content to a worldwide audience.

Facts & Arts' objective is to enhance the distribution of individual owners' content by combining various types of high quality content that can be assumed to interest the same audience. The thinking is that in this manner the individual pieces of content on Facts & Arts support the distribution of one another.

If you have fitting written material, classical music or videos; or if you would like to become one of our regular columnists, a book reviewer or music reviewer; or if you wish to market or broadcast a live event through Facts & Arts, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "