DR. ABBAS J. ALI: Obama's perilous Syrian policy
September 15, 2013 1:50 AM

Just after President Obama spoke with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, about his decision to seek authority from Congress to attack Syria, the president enthusiastically and aggressively lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Likewise, he reached out to the heads of states of several countries and pressed them to support his war efforts. Experts in Washington and other major capitals attributed such drive to the blessing he had received from the Israeli leader.

While many international affairs analysts agree that the Obama administration, from the start, harbors a strong resentment of Syria, they differ in their justifications. On this point, there exist several rationales.

There are those who believe that since President Obama has surrounded himself with neoconservative Democrats like Joe Biden, John Kerry, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, along with hard-line neoconservatives in the administration, such as Benjamin J. Rhodes and Martin Indyk, Obama has no choice but to heed their advice.

Other experts advance the notion that Obama has to present himself as a powerful commander in chief in order to compete with powerful neoconservatives who have accused him of being weak in international affairs. Syria, the Obama advisers believe, provides an easy venture that will add clout and strengthen Obama’s image as an assertive president who does not hesitate to take action abroad on behalf of Israel.

Moreover, Middle East and international affairs experts underscore the potency of the prevailing notion among some Christian Zionists that Israel is God’s Kingdom on Earth. Obama cannot afford to ignore this camp and their belief that those who defy Israel defy God’s will. Syria has always been identified as a country that persistently defies God’s will by refusing to abandon its rights to Syrian land that was forcefully occupied by Israel.

Likewise, President Obama and senior members of his administration have forged strong personal relations with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The latter, since 2006, has made it clear that the Syrian regime has defied his design for Lebanon and that Syria’s relationship with Iran and progressive Arab movements constitutes a serious obstacle to normalizing relations with Israel. President Obama understands Abdullah’s concerns and his willingness to cover all military expenses for attacking Syria.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that AIPAC, the Israeli primary lobby in Washington, has decided to storm the halls on Capitol Hill to convince members of the House of Representatives to support President Obama’s plan for a U.S. military strike on Syria. Haaretz stated that AIPAC has strongly argued that “a defeat for the administration could turn into a significant and potentially negative milestone for Israel and [that] Americans … may be turning their backs on Israel.”

According to The New York Times (Sept. 5, 2013), the administration did not want to peacefully solve the Syrian issue. This policy is consistent with Israel’s current aims. The Times argued that the “Israelis have increasingly argued that the best outcome for Syria’s 2ᄑ-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome.” It quoted an Israeli officer, Alon Pinkas, saying, “This is a playoff situation, in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie. ... Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”

The Obama administration’s rationale for dealing with Syria is built on certain qualities that are considered a threat to Israeli supremacy in the region: It is the only existing secular Arab entity where women have unconstrained access to all kinds of professional and scientific opportunities, the only Arab country that is a net exporter of agricultural, pharmaceutical and textile commodities, the last Arab state where minorities used to live in peace and harmony with the rest of the population, and the only country that openly promotes Arab national expression. Unlike other Arab States, Syria, too, is the home for energetic entrepreneurs and a highly skilled workforce.

International affairs experts often criticize the Obama administration for subordinating American national interests to that of Israel and the oil–rich Arab authoritarian regimes. The immediate danger of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria and the Middle East, however, is its heavy use of force and coercion to silence the Arab masses, derail democratic transformation and incite sectarian division. This policy is destined to deepen turmoil and transform the region into a fertile ground for terrorism and extremism.

Dr. Abbas J. Ali is a professor and director of the School of International Management, Eberly College of Business and IT, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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