Syria: Remaking Batman-style foreign policies of US. By Nathaniel Sheppard Jr.


The bloody crisis in Syria illustrates why the US cannot have a one-size-fits-all foreign policy that is consistent, evenly applied and equitable to all. Lofty national ideals are good but sobering political realities dictate who gets help, what type help, how much and when.

By seeking an International Criminal Court war crimes indictment against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, the US could deflect some criticism that it is doing nothing to stop the slaughter of unarmed pro-democracy protesters by government troops and assassins.

It is not the hands-on support backed by bombs freedom fighters receive in Libya but it seems to be all the administration of President Barack Obama can offer right now, given political realities.

Libya was easy. Its madcap leader, Muammar Qaddafi, has seen to it that the country has no friends and its dickweed army is no match for other than unarmed civilians.

Syria, on the other hand, has a good air defense system, lots of nasty chemical weapons and thuggish friends such as Iran and Hezbollah and could strike back, even going after coddled US ally Israel to broaden the conflict. There is less than no interest in the US for another foreign adventure, Arab or otherwise.

Syria has been a sort of rook in the Middle East chess game, though capable of helping or hindering the Arab-Israeli peace process. While posturing itself as a force for stability in the region, Syria has provided a door through which Iran could make mischief and promote its Arab ambitions by funneling arms and aid to Hezbollah and Hamas.

With members of Congress already demanding that the president justify US military action in Libya and pressuring him to speed up US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, getting support for US involvement in yet another Arab conflict is a hard sell.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed to acknowledge this Friday in outlining US policy for Syria in an op-ed in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. Isolating Mr. Assad is the name of the game.

“The United States has already imposed sanctions on senior Syrian officials, including President Assad. We are carefully targeting leaders of the crackdown, not the Syrian people,” she said. “We welcomed the decisions by the European Union to impose its own sanctions and by the UN Human Rights Council to launch an investigation into abuses. The United States will continue coordinating closely with our partners in the region and around world to increase pressure on and further isolate the Assad regime.”

Other US officials said these efforts would include asking the Arab League, bilateral partners and Turkey to ramp up pressure on the Assad regime, and targeting sanctions at the country’s oil and gas sector.

This approach will put the US on the moral high road of verbally supporting its principles as a nation but does little in the short run to stop the daily carnage in Syrian streets that already has claimed 1,200 lives and led to the reported detention of 10,000 people. Only Mr. Assad can do that.

In fairness there are other considerations to take into account. Would Sunni fundamentalists get the upper hand? Would Al Qaeda jihadists gain a foothold? Or would the country simply go up in the flames of civil war? From the US point of view Syria without Mr. Assad could mean an end to the bloodshed and the loss of a patron saint to Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. The question is at what cost?

Mr. Obama already is walking a thin line, trying to live up to a pledge that the US will champion those seeking democracy while not getting sucked into conflicts that would require military involvement. He was forced by congressional critics just this week to explain why he was not violating the War Powers Act by committing war planes to Libya without congressional approval.

America’s Cold War warriors who were quick to intervene in the affairs of other nations to block the spread of Communism and, more recently, combat radical Islamists, are dying out or stumbling now in the direction of isolationism, propelled by national fatigue with war, a crushing national debt and rising local resentment over missions gone wrong in countries cooperating with US anti-terrorists efforts like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

America’s well intentioned Batmanesque image of a nation willing to respond to every bat signal in the sky is in for a makeover as the nation rethinks the limits of its power in light of harsh new economic realities.

Imposing economic sanctions, building support for international isolation and appealing to the world bodies such as the United Nation and the International Criminal Court while leaving it to others to provide boots on the ground and bombs from the sky may become the mainstay of US response to Syrian style crisis, except where there exists compelling evidence of a clear and present danger to the US or its interests.

(Nathaniel Sheppard Jr. is a well-known correspondent who has worked for The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. He can be reached at: [email protected])