The Master Stroke is... Not to Strike!/ Sobhi Ghandour

U.S. President Obama is now exposed to too much criticism from multiple and already contradictory opinions on the bloody situation in Syria. At the international level, there are those who criticize him because he threatened to carry out military strikes against Syria without deferring to the UN Security Council, and because he has created a climate similar to the fabrications of the previous U.S. administration to justify the war in Iraq in 2003. Whereas at the domestic level, the criticism is between those who are against military strikes on principle, and those who refuse only limited strikes and want a vast military intervention.

From my point of view, President Obama has managed this heated issue so far with tact and wisdom about how to avoid war despite the beating drums.  I do not think that the Obama administration is really serious about U.S. military involvement in Syria.  If it were serious, what prevented them from striking over the past two years, since the summer of 2011, when the Syrian popular movement was militarized in order to push the situation in Syria toward international military intervention?  This could have happened earlier under better conditions for the Obama administration, but it did not, despite requests from some Syrian, Arab, regional, and American parties.

It is always important to remember what was said by former Republican Robert Gates, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Defense during Bush’s administration and the first two years of Obama’s first administration.  Gates said that any U.S. Secretary of Defense who comes after him should double-check his sanity if he gets involved in a new war in the Middle East.

Over the past few weeks, President Obama has tried to demonstrate his credibility about the "red line" on the use of chemical weapons, and the credibility of his promises to the American voters who supported his presidency as a stand against the wars of the previous administration and his promises not to repeat the mistakes of the policy of unilateral wars and ignoring the role of the UN Security Council. He made the world hold its breath for several days anticipating a military strike in Syria. He also made America and the whole world face the possibility of war in the Middle East, which the U.S. knows how to start, but does not know how it will end. In the midst of this political and media heat, the American and European public realized the seriousness of the calls by some local politicians for direct military intervention, including Senator John McCain for the past two years and a number of other American politicians and writers.

Obama has managed in recent days to convert the hammer that was over his head as a result of not intervening militarily in Syria, into a sword in his hand against his opponents inside the U.S. and abroad. The Obama administration is fully aware that the consequences of a military intervention, even if limited, would cause a military reaction from its opponents to which the U.S. would have to respond. That would escalate into a broad military involvement that would ignite the entire Middle East into a devastating war.

Perhaps it is more reasonable and logical to believe that Obama’s political and media maneuvering in recent days has achieved several goals, without leading the world to the brink of war.  Thus far, the Obama administration has gained much out of this media and political war. It has demonstrated to the world that America still carries heavy military weight and can still shake the pillars of the whole world.  It also made direct political gains, including:

·        Responding to the American public by both calling for war, yet not engaging in it. Those who want American military intervention found Obama's position in this heated atmosphere suited to them and their desires. And those opposed to U.S. military involvement breathed a sigh of relief when Obama decided to delay action and place into the hands of Congress the decision about whether to conduct military strikes against Syria.

·        Demonstrating Obama's commitment to the "red line" and turning the use of chemical gases into the most important international issue, even though the number of people killed in the Syrian war prior to the use of chemical weapons had already exceeded one hundred thousand!

·        Answering the administration’s critics who accused it of weakness, lack of credibility, and damaging the U.S.’s global reputation and prestige -- first among whom is Senator McCain who was extremely harsh on Obama before his threat to strike Syria. We find now that President Obama has placed the issue of American military intervention under the responsibility of both houses of Congress.  If Congress approves military strikes, its members then become responsible for the repercussions, and if Congress does not support the strikes, then not the least reproach or criticism could be legitimately made against Obama afterwards.

None of the above is an acceptable excuse for the international tension that has been created. Questions still remain about who used the poison gas in Ghouta Damascus, as in Khan Al-Asl previously, and who benefitted from it.  Why exclude the possible involvement of a third party, and not the Syrian Government or the Syrian National Coalition opposition?  Why could it not be extremist forces cooperating with Al-Qaeda-type groups who are behind the use of the poison gas?  They would benefit in two ways:  the U.S. and Syrian Governments would be at war against each other, thus weakening both, and these extremist groups can gain a greater foothold in Syria and the entire Middle East.  Why did the U.S. ignore the results of international investigator Carla del Ponte’s report in May after a preliminary investigation of the Khan Al-Asl gas attack revealed that the attack had been perpetrated by opposition parties? (1)

Also, why ignore the Israeli interest and the possible role of the Israeli intelligence service and its Syrian and Arab clientele in the use of chemical weapons?. It is easy for armed groups to carry out these attacks, as happened in the Tokyo subway several years ago.  Israel simply could not accept the progress the Syrian Government forces had made in most areas of the country prior to the chemical attach.  In addition, Israel’s military has intervened against Government forces over the past two years, and it cannot allow the war to end in favor of the current regime and its regional and international allies.  This would be considered a security risk to Israel itself, and a failure in betting on the continuation of Syria’s civil war and spreading the violence throughout the Middle East so that entire Arab countries and institutions collapse, not just certain regimes. (2)

The Obama administration is aware that the Netanyahu Government has worked since 2009 to provoke a U.S. military confrontation with Iran and its allies in the region; however, for over five years the Obama administration did not fall into several Israeli traps designed to serve that goal, despite Israel’s strong support in the U.S. Congress.  This is what provoked Israel’s friends in the United States to press for military strikes. 

Although the U.S. also did not want the Syrian crisis to end in favor of the Syrian Government, which would help America's adversaries in the region and the world, the U.S. has no interest now in military involvement in the Middle East, or in further aggravating its relations with Russia, China, and other international powers.  In contract to the Israeli designs to spread the violence throughout the Middle East, the U.S. seeks to achieve a comprehensive political settlement in the region.

The Obama administration now has a golden opportunity to capitalize on the escalation and tense and heated atmosphere in order to unnerve world players, Moscow specifically, into working toward an international solution, through the Geneva Conference 2, which is yet to be agreed upon, in order to achieve political settlements to several crises in the Middle East.  Then history will not wonder about the wisdom of the Nobel Prize Committee awarding President Obama a Peace Prize when his administration was only a few weeks old!



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