Resolving Syria: Tomahawks or a Table?
The onus is on Obama: whether to give in to his allies’ urgings and attack Syria, or to bring forward the Geneva II meet
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
It appeals to common sense in the Middle East and the rest of the world that the civil war in Syria can end, whichever way, if the United States of America decides to intervene militarily. Till now, the US government has kept its hands in its pockets – at least publicly – and refrained from stepping in though it has specified the circumstances in which it would rethink its current policy. The recent massacre of about 1,300 people, allegedly in a chemical weapons attack near Damascus, threatens to change this hands-off policy if the war has truly crossed the red line that President BarackObama articulated last year.
There is, however, confusion over what Obama really meant. In this confusion rests the troubled fate of Syria. The big question now is whether the US and its allies would punish the Syrian government by raining a deadly arsenal of Tomahawks and Cruise missiles or wait for concrete evidence from UN inspectors about alleged use of chemical weapons.
On August 12, 2012, during a press conference at the White House, Obama provided the first indication of when he would change the way he perceives the crisis. It was during this press conference that he first used the concept of a “red line” and linked it to the usage of chemical weapons. His statement, that requires a revisit after a year of unending hostilities and wanton killings, never really suggested that the US would attack Syria if chemical weapons were used by the army against its own people. He said a lot more. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is when we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the President said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
The interpretation by the Western media was simplistic, which claimed that the US would attack Syria if it found evidence that the Basher Al Assad regime was gassing its own people. Whereas Obama lays down a broader principle – he talks of “other players on the ground”, who could also resort to the use of chemical weapons. Obama is surely not blind to the reality of the rebels being supplied with dangerous sarin gas or
Ever since Obama made this statement, the Syrian opposition and its Arab supporters like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have given credence to the allegations that have been made from time to time that the Assad government has been using chemical weapons. A few months ago, the Israeli intelligence chief had mentioned that Assad had used chemical weapons. It was stated in a casual way, but the free Syrian army and its rich patrons began to indicate that the red line had indeed been crossed and the US should take matters into its own hands. The ardour of the rebels was dampened when an Italian UN inspector, Carla Del Ponte, accused them of using sarin gas. Ponte upset a section in the UK and France that wants a repetition of Libya and is keen that the US lead the charge again.
Since the botch-up in Libya, the US president has a more nuanced approach about how to countenance this troubled region. Although it is in a happy situation with all sides looking to it, it has refrained from being provoked by those who want to reshape the region according to their sectarian world view. Almost parallel to this rise in sectarian chauvinism is an aggressive movement to rebuild secularism in these Islamic societies. The blowback in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood is a case in point.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party that was voted to power in an election after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak was overthrown a year later by unprecedented street protests. On June 30, the Tamarrod movement, that had collected 21 million signatures, organized massive protests all over Cairo and other cities in Egypt. “According to Google maps there were 33 million protesters on the streets between June 30 and July 3,” said a diplomat.
They were blaming Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi for trying to Islamicize the country by changing the Constitution and feeding atavistic forces. Coptic Christians were the worst sufferers. While Morsi was in power, the police would look the other way, when the Brotherhood supporters would attack churches. Shias, too, were not spared. Although a small minority, there were cases of murder and violence against them even in Cairo. Women were perhaps most scared by the rise in influence of the clergy during the short period that Morsi was in power. He was supposed to run his party and the government like Turkey’s AKP, which is also an Islamic party, but Morsi was overtaken by the ideologues of the Brotherhood that were more keen on pushing the religious agenda than governance. Angry Egyptians wanted none of that. They were also livid with the US for supporting Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
What really happened after that is history, but the change in Cairo reflects the great churning that is taking place in the region. There is little clarity on how it will eventually unravel, but the happenings are seriously challenging existing notions of alliances between the Arab nations.
Since the botch-up in Libya, the US president has a more nuanced approach about how to countenance this troubled region. It has refrained from being provoked by those who want to reshape the region according to their sectarian world view