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

Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, One America News (OAN), Newsmax, and talk radio are grossly abusing the right to free speech and are causing profound, if not irreparable damage to our country at home and abroad. They have been engaged in these deliberate practices of spreading poisonous misinformation all in the name of free speech." ---- "A team at MIT, analyzing propaganda techniques in the news, underscores the use of logical fallacies – such as strawmen (the misrepresentation of the other’s position), red herrings (the provision of irrelevancies), false dichotomies (offering two alternatives as the only possibilities), and whataboutism (a diversionary tactic to avoid directly addressing an issue). ---- Whataboutism is worth considering more closely because it is becoming ubiquitous among Republicans – perhaps this is not surprising given that it is certainly Trump’s “favorite dodge.” It is one of the fundamental rules by which he operates: when you are criticized, say that someone else is worse. In an interview with Trump, Bill O’Reilly states the obvious fact that “Putin is a killer,” and who can forget Trump’s response: “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?” That is classic whataboutism. And it is also of course all over Fox News’ most popular line-up."
Jul 24th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For three hours, against the unequivocal advice of his counsel, friends, and family, Trump purposefully and steadfastly declined to give the mob he had summoned any signal to disperse, to exit the building peacefully, or to simply cease threatening the life of his vice president or other members of Congress." ------ "Trump is corrupt to the core, a traitor who deserves nothing but contempt and to spend the rest of his life behind bars because he remains a menace to this country and an existential threat to our democratic institutions."
Jul 21st 2022
EXTRACT: "For some countries, diasporas also are not new. Just ask the Russians. For three-quarters of a century, Stalin’s NKVD and its successor, the KGB, kept close tabs on expatriate Russians, constantly worrying about the threat they might pose. And now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security service, the FSB, is continuing the tradition. According to recent FSB estimates, almost four million Russians left the country in the first three months of this year. Obviously, FSB statistics are hard to verify. But the sheer magnitude of this year’s departures is striking."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: "We need leaders who will be honest about our problems in the short, medium, and long term. We are becoming poorer than our neighbors, with our per capita growth and productivity lagging behind theirs. We confront surging energy prices, soaring inflation, and public-sector strikes. Our fiscal deficit is uncomfortably high. Our influence is diminished. Far from recognizing these challenges, let alone proposing sensible solutions, the candidates to succeed Johnson are trying to win votes with reckless proposals like ever-larger tax cuts." ----- "There is one exception. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak refuses to abandon the notion that expenditure should bear some relationship to revenue. "
Jul 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Looking ahead, five factors could make today’s energy crisis even worse. First, Putin has opened a second front in the conflict by cutting back on the contracted volumes of natural gas that Russia supplies to Europe. The goal is to prevent Europeans from storing enough supplies for next winter, and to drive prices higher, creating economic hardship and political discord. In his speech in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin made his reasoning clear: “Social and economic problems worsening in Europe” will “split their societies” and “inevitably lead to populism … and a change of the elites in the short term.” ...... As it is, Germany is now anticipating the need for gas rationing, and its minister for economic affairs, Robert Habeck, warns of a “Lehman-style contagion” (referring to the 2008 financial crisis) if Europe cannot manage today’s energy-induced economic disruptions."
Jul 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "Fortunately, I am not alone in claiming that the survival of democracy in the US is gravely endangered. The American public has been aroused by the decision overturning Roe. But people need to recognize that decision for what it is: part of a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime. We must do everything we can to prevent that. This fight ought to include many people who voted for Trump in the past."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit described this succinctly in his book On Compromise and Rotten Compromises. In “politics as economics,” material interests are “subject to bargaining, everything is negotiable, whereas in the religious picture, centered on the idea of the holy, the holy is non-negotiable.” This, then, is why politics in the US is now in such a perilous state. More and more, the secular left and the religious right are engaged in a culture war, revolving around sexuality, gender, and race, where politics is no longer negotiable. When that happens, institutions start breaking down, and the stage is set for charismatic demagogues and the politics of violence."
Jul 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "...EU enlargement is essentially a political decision by member states, based on a multitude of considerations that sometimes include dramatic events. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is such a turning point."
Jun 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Most market analysts seem to think that central banks will remain hawkish, but I am not so sure. I have argued that they will eventually wimp out and accept higher inflation – followed by stagflation – once a hard landing becomes imminent, because they will be worried about the damage of a recession and a debt trap, owing to an excessive build-up of private and public liabilities after years of low interest rates." ----- "There is ample reason to believe that the next recession will be marked by a severe stagflationary debt crisis. As a share of global GDP, private and public debt levels are much higher today than in the past, having risen from 200% in 1999 to 350% today (with a particularly sharp increase since the start of the pandemic). Under these conditions, rapid normalization of monetary policy and rising interest rates will drive highly leveraged zombie households, companies, financial institutions, and governments into bankruptcy and default."
Jun 28th 2022
EXTRACT: "It is tempting to conclude that today’s central bankers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Maybe if they sit tight, they will ride out the storm. Then-Fed Chair Paul Volcker was Public Enemy Number One in the United States in the early 1980s, when he squeezed post-oil-shock inflation out of the system with double-digit interest rates. But in his later years he was revered, and became a national treasure, called on to advise successive presidents in any financial emergency. ----- But central bankers would be wise not to assume that their reputations will automatically recover, and that the status quo ante will be restored. We live in a more disputatious age than the 1980s. Public institutions are more regularly challenged and held to account by far less reverential legislators." ----- "Moreover, former central bankers have joined the chorus of critics. Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, breaking the unwritten rule not to reproach one’s successors, has said that today’s Fed made “a mistake” by responding slowly to inflation. And Bailey’s immediate predecessors, Mervyn King and Mark Carney, have weighed in, too, with challenges to the BOE’s policy. The fabric of the central banking fraternity is fraying."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Public opinion in Belarus remains firmly against involvement into the war with Ukraine. Moreover, according to a Chatham House survey, 40% of Belarusians do not support Russia’s war, compared to 32% who do, while around half of those questioned see predominately negative consequences of the war for Belarus (53%) and for themselves (48%). The Belarusian military and security services are also aware of the determined and skilful resistance that Ukrainian forces have put up against Russia and the risks that they would therefore be running if they entered the war against Ukraine. This, in turn, means that the risk to Lukashenko himself remains that he might lose his grip on power, a grip which depends heavily on the loyalty of his armed forces." ---- "Ultimately, Belarus may not be on the brink of being plunged into war quite yet, but its options to avoid such a disaster are narrowing."
Jun 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russification (the policy of enforcing Russian culture on populations) appears to be being reinforced by ethnic cleansing. Last month the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, Liudmyla Denisova, informed the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, that 1.3 million Ukrainians, including 223,000 children, had been forcibly deported to Russia."
Jun 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "If Trump had his way, then Vice-President Pence would have also broken his oath to the constitution and derailed the certification of electoral votes. Our continued existence as a Republic might very well have hung on Pence’s actions that day. The mob’s response was to call for Pence to be hanged, and a noose and scaffold was erected apparently for that very purpose. What was Trump’s reaction when he was told that the mob was calling for Pence’s summary execution? His words were: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Mike Pence “deserves” it."
Jun 10th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Speaking to journalist Sophie Raworth on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show recently, former war crimes prosecutor Sir Howard Morrison, now an advisor to the Ukraine government, highlighted the dangers posed by the negative – often insulting and dehumanising – statements made by some Russian politicians and media personalities about Ukraine and its people." ---- "The conditions and attitudes described by Morrison have existed for centuries: Russians have viewed Ukrainians as inferior since before the Soviet era." ----- "And, as Morrison said, stereotyping and denigrating a people as inferior or lacking agency makes atrocities and looting more likely to happen, as we are seeing in Ukraine."
Jun 9th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unless Russia realises that the west is willing and able to push back, a new, stable security order in Europe will not be possible. Concessions to Russia, by Ukraine or the EU and Nato, are not the way to achieve this. That this has been realised beyond Ukraine’s most ardent supporters in the Baltic states, Poland, the UK and the US is clear from German support for strengthening Nato’s northern flank and a general increase in Nato members’ defence spending."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Highly civilized people can turn into barbarians when demagogues and dictators exploit their fears and trigger their most atavistic instincts. Rape, torture, and massacres often happen when soldiers invade foreign countries. Commanding officers sometimes actively encourage such behavior to terrorize an enemy into submission. And sometimes it occurs when the officer corps loses control and discipline breaks down. Japanese and Germans know this, as do Serbs, Koreans, Americans, Russians, and many others."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Like Metternich, Kissinger commits the fatal error of believing that a few wise policymakers can impose their will on the world. Worse, he believes they can halt domestically generated change and the power of nationalism. Many years ago, this is what Senator William Fulbright termed the “arrogance of power.” This approach failed in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is also doomed to fail in Russia and Ukraine." ------ "Not surprisingly, Kissinger misunderstands Russia. He appears to believe that, because Russia has been an “essential part of Europe” for over four centuries, it is therefore fated to remain so for the foreseeable future.The claim is completely at odds with history." ---- "Finally, Kissinger misunderstands the implications of his own analysis for Western relations with Russia. “We are facing,” he said, “a situation now where Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere." ---- "But what’s so bad about Russia’s isolating itself from Europe and becoming a vassal state of China? "
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "According to the latest figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population grew from 1.41212 billion to just 1.41260 billion in 2021 – a record low increase of just 480,000, a mere fraction of the annual growth of eight million or so common a decade ago." ----- "China’s total fertility rate (births per woman) was 2.6 in the late 1980s – well above the 2.1 needed to replace deaths. It has been between 1.6 and 1.7 since 1994, and slipped to 1.3 in 2020 and just 1.15 in 2021."
Jun 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Casualties are very high. A very conservative estimate of overall Russian losses is that they have lost more troops killed since February 24 than in ten years of fighting in Afghanistan. This implies well over 40,000 men taken out of the fight, including the wounded." ----- "Away from the cauldron of Donbas, Belarus has been rattling its somewhat rusty sabre by deploying troops to its border with Ukraine. This is unlikely to trouble Kyiv. The Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, is well aware that he may need them at home to shore up his shaky regime."