Obama and the Syrian Nightmare

The pressures on U.S. President Barack Obama to lead regional and international efforts in order to accelerate the toppling of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime by arming the Syrian opposition and preparing it politically, strategically and economically for a post-Assad era had been increasing for quite some time. These pressures, which include deterring and isolating radical Islamic elements, had been increasing long before reports by the heads of intelligence committees in the U.S. Congress cast doubt on the likelihood of the regime resorting to using chemical weapons.

In this context, sources related to the Syrian opposition said that the formation of an interim government and the rejection of interim Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto intention to negotiate with the regime was aimed at 'killing the negotiation operation.'

Hisham Melhem


These pressures come from different sources - Congress, research centers, commentators, and even from military officials like Adm. James Stavridis, the current Commander, U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), who said that arming the opposition “will help in breaking the deadlock and toppling Assad’s regime.” President Obama is still repelling these calls, and more importantly, he is still calling for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forc to negotiate with representatives of the Assad regime. In this context, sources related to the Syrian opposition said that the formation of an interim government and the rejection of interim Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto intention to negotiate with the regime was aimed at “killing the negotiation operation.”


Washington’s role


They expected this situation to lead to the deferral of Washington - which is already reluctant - in the recognition of the new government. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested, for the first time, that U.S. troops be sent to control Syria’s chemical weapons sites. A few days earlier, Democratic Representative Eliot Engel introduced a new bill calling on the Obama administration to arm and train the Syrian rebels. Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Bob Casey and Marco Rubio suggested providing non-lethal military aid to vetted Syrian opposition groups, such as body armors and communication devices; Sen. Casey left open the possibility of arming the rebels at a later date. Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin called on President Obama to establish a “safe zone” inside Syria and use airstrikes to attack Assad's military power.

Finally, the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security that is related to the Atlantic Council has issued a report confirming that “only the strong American leadership” is capable of administering the international efforts required to support the Syrian opposition on the military and financial levels in order to topple the regime, including the limited use of the air force. A few days ago, Baker foundation (founded by James Baker and Edward Djerejian) issued a report that Djerejian has directed and recommended a stronger cooperation with the Syrian coalition; it asked Washington to cooperate with the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council to provide funds to the coalition. It also called on Washington to “consider the possibility of providing military assistance” to some opposition elements, and cooperate with NATO for the establishment of a joint command for special operations which will be based in Turkey to oversee the distribution of weapons and other logistical support to the rebels. The report urged Washington to lead international efforts to help countries that are adversely affected by the Syrian conflict, especially Jordan and Lebanon. For sure, Obama is no longer immune to the Syrian nightmare.

This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on March 22, 2013.

Hisham Melhem is the bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Melhem speaks regularly at college campuses, think tanks and interest groups on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, intra-Arab relations, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media , U.S. public policies and other related topics. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al Arabiya. Follow him on Twitter : @hisham_melhem

Last Update: Friday, 22 March 2013 KSA 17:15 - GMT 14:15
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.