Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Are You Serious, Mr. President? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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President Barack Obama addressing a crowd in Chicago, Friday February 15 2013 (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Over the course of two separate interviews, the US President responded to criticisms that America has failed to intervene in the Syrian crisis in the appropriate manner over the past two years. He said that he is still working hard to assess whether military intervention in Syria will help to resolve the bloody conflict or whether it will only serve to make things worse! Of course, this is not what was stunning in Obama’s statements, for every country—even a superpower—has the right to assess their interests. Rather what was shocking and frightening was Obama asking, in an interview with New Republic magazine, “How do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?” This is not all; in another interview with 60 Minutes on CBS television, Obama angrily added, “We do nobody a service when we leap before we look, when we . . . take on things without having thought through all of the consequences.” As we said, the issue is not the US President’s right to take his nation’s interests into account or not, for we are all aware that the US is not a charity. Rather, the issue is this logic of justification, for with all due respect to the Congo and its people: Is this country like Syria? In assessing the age of the Syrian revolution, and the death of 60,000 people, does this represent “leaping without looking?” This is truly puzzling.

For what Obama is not aware of is that the humanitarian crisis in Syria will lead to security, political, and sectarian crises that are far more complex than expected. It is clear that the US president’s problem, as shown by these statements, lies in his basic understanding of the region. What Obama is not aware of is that ignoring what is happening in Syria at present will necessitate his country spending the next 30 years confronting the crisis there. This will be far worse than what is happening in Afghanistan, which the US ignored since the 1980s, forcing it to confront the crisis that subsequently arose there today.

The other problem is that the US president does not understand the danger represented by the Bashar al-Assad regime, and that its downfall will remove the greatest obstacle to regional peace and stability. In addition to this, Assad’s departure would also represent a strategic blow against Iran, which may even ensure that Washington need not carry out future military strikes against Tehran against the backdrop of the nuclear file. Therefore Assad’s fall will also have an impact on Tehran, particularly as the collapse of his regime would mean the end of Iran’s regional expansionist project. It is also enough to consider the implications of the collapse of the Assad regime on Hezbollah, the extremist groups in Iraq, and the Palestinian militant groups.

Therefore, one can only say: Are you serious, Mr. President? Obama’s logic is frightening, and his understanding of the region terrifying and in doubt, particularly as he is the man who saw a revolution in Bahrain and pushed Mubarak to step down while today he is saying that he is working hard to assess the situation in Syria! Even more frustrating: Where are the region’s intellectuals and statesmen? Where is the diplomatic effort in Washington? Obama’s statements indicate that he has either not heard serious assessments regarding the Syrian crisis, or that he does not want to hear them; either is dangerous.