Obama and the Syrian challenge

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Barack Obama boasts about being the American president who pulled his country from wars. From this perspective, we can understand how he quickly withdrew American troops from Iraq and assigned a date for withdrawal in Afghanistan. He disagreed even with the Israeli premier and rejected an attack to halt the Iranian nuclear program and settled for targeting al-Qaeda members from afar using drones.

It's very clear that Obama is experiencing a huge dilemma when it comes to dealing with the Syrian crisis. On one hand, Syria is currently the biggest humanitarian crisis facing the world. Thousands of civilians are being killed by heavy artillery and millions of people have been displaced as a result of a regime with a long and evil history. On another hand, Syria's regime is a claw of the Iranian regime and a supporter of Hezbollah, and taking advantage of the crisis serves American security interest too.

The waiting game

If Obama had made up his mind early on and decided to intervene or provide military support two years ago, the world would not have found itself in this bad situation.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Obama hesitated over Syria despite the repetition of events which justify intervention that have taken place over a period of two years. This is due to his character and policy. He did not decide to deter the Syrian regime responsible for the killing of 1,400 people; one third of them is children, until after review and inspection and hesitated until calls appealing for help were made from across the world.

After he decided to intervene, he retreated following the British premier's failure to win the parliament's support of a strike in Syria. His judgment was also affected by poll results stating that the majority of the American people were also against intervention in Syria. However, the president changed his tactics and decided to go to Congress. Winning the approval of any decision, especially for war, is a very difficult issue, and may not work out. Therefore, it's difficult to imagine that the president will defy Congress' will since he's the one who requested its permission.

If Congress objects to intervention and if Obama refrains from deterring the Assad regime, then the war will not stop. Assad, as well as Iran, will read this as a license to commit more murders.

But, even if Obama refrains, the Assad regime will eventually fall because its capability to withstand is diminishing. Why do we want American military intervention? Because it will save a lot of blood, pain and years of war. The war between Iran and Iraq lasted for eight years during which around 1 million people died. But the war between Iraq and Kuwait only lasted for six weeks as a result of the American intervention, which expelled Saddam’s invading forces.

What if?

All wars are hideous, and the world can do nothing but support the wars that deter criminals and invaders. If Obama had made up his mind early on and decided to intervene or provide military support two years ago, the world would not have found itself in this bad situation. Assad and Khamenei, and before them, Saddam and Qaddafi, are evil men who do not understand the language of co-existence, just like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Pol Pot.

Although Obama did not engage in huge wars and avoided intervening in Syria, despite the size of the tragedy and the repeated calls for help, he can say that he's a man who left important marks in history. During his presidency, Bin Laden was killed and Qaddafi was toppled. He also supported Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and Yemen. Despite this record, Syria is an extremely dangerous historical event. By his hesitation, he's creating a new situation which is more dangerous - a situation in which Iran, al-Qaeda and similar parties are growing. This will force the United States to engage in bigger wars later.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 8, 2013.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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