Obama’s reluctance on Syria, ‘a grave concern’

Faisal J. Abbas
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It seems almost surreal that U.S. President Barack Obama described the Syrian armed forces’ alleged use of chemical weapons as a matter of “grave concern.”

Make no mistake, I do not say this to belittle the viciousness of this massacre, which reportedly suffocated 1,400 innocent men, women and children.

Nor do I say this to undermine the credibility of the U.S. president, who warned last year that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red-line” yet did nothing in retaliation to previous claims that such weapons had been used. It should be noted that these alleged incidents are currently being investigated by U.N. inspectors on the ground.

I say “surreal” because the American administration makes it seem as though it is the weapon of murder, rather than the act of murder itself, which matters.

Matters of ‘grave concern’

The reported chemical attack on the Eastern and Western Ghouta suburbs of Damascus may have killed 1,400 people, but, according to the U.N., the overall death toll since the Syrian crisis began in 2011 now exceeds 100,000.

Are all those lives not a matter of “grave concern” simply because people were killed by conventional bombs? Is the loss of life less significant when people are tortured to death in prisons, run over by tanks or fired at by Syrian regime fighter-jets?

Has the U.S. president not read the most recent report released by the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which yesterday stated that there are now one million Syrian child refugees?

Is it not a matter of “grave concern” that these children are unlikely to ever have a normal life, that many of them no longer have parents, homes or even cities that they can call their own?

‘Better late than never?’

Despite all of this, I would say that some form of intervention at this stage would be “better late than never.”

The U.S. administration makes it seem as though it is the weapon of murder, rather than the act of murder itself, which matters

Faisal J. Abbas

However, the White House still seems reluctant to make a statement which even insinuates that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should take American “red-lines” seriously, let alone commit boots on the ground.

If President Obama’s advisors are still hoping to reach a political deal by negotiating Assad’s departure, then this really would be a matter of “grave concern.”

Assad is never going to willingly leave Syria, he would rather burn down the whole country and kill everyone in it (which he is effectively doing) before stepping foot outside of it as an exiled president.

Furthermore, he believes that he is still backed by the Iranians, Hezbollah and the Russians who have committed fighters on the ground and weapons respectively.

Assad’s only real threat is the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which since mid-2012 has made notable progress thanks to financial, military and tactical support provided mainly by Saudi Arabia.

However, the FSA remains reliant on a large number of amateur fighters, in comparison to the many years of experience that many Hezbollah fighters enjoy for example. Additionally, the FSA is, at certain times, being overshadowed by jihadist fronts which have formed to fill the power vacuum predicated by global inaction on Syria.

As expected, Assad is benefiting from the divisions in the oppositional front and continues to portray them all as radicals; which is why it is both typical and expected of his state television to accuse the opposition of launching the chemical attacks.

Nevertheless, state media propaganda has been perpetuated since the first day Syrian protesters peacefully took to the streets demanding reform in 2011.

Nothing that Assad says or does can change the fact that his family has ruled Syria as a dictatorship for more than four decades; and that it was his violent, lethal reaction to these peaceful protests which dragged the country to where it is today.

As such, to achieve progress and end the crisis in Syria, the Americans will have to do better than simply huff and puff this time!


Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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