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The stick for al-Assad! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The late US President Theodore Roosevelt often used to repeat a famous African proverb: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”. The “stick” was in order to show that he was able to turn his words into action, if needed, and this seems to be what President Barack Obama wants to convey to Bashar al-Assad through a photograph recently distributed to some members of the media, including our journalists.

The day before yesterday, the White House distributed a picture showing President Obama in his Oval Office holding a large baseball bat during a telephone conversation between him and the Prime Minister of Turkey. It was said that during this conversation the two leaders agreed to speed up the transition process in Syria, which means of course the departure of the tyrant of Damascus, so was Obama’s “stick” a message to al-Assad?

In all certainty, yes.

The picture was not spontaneous; it was not taken on location during Obama’s vacation, but rather in the oval office. In politics, as is well-known, politicians use every intimation, or gesture, to send messages, and the photograph is one of the most emphatic means, especially if the intention is also to send a message to the public. However, the more important question is: Does al-Assad care about Obama’s stick?

I doubt it, especially as al-Assad did not care, for 17 months, when Obama was “speaking softly”, so why would he care today about a picture of him holding a stick? Dictators like al-Assad do not care about pictures of the stick; rather they care about the impact of being hit by it. This is what we saw in the cases of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, yet al-Assad has yet to experience any more than a bee sting, let alone a stick, from Obama’s Washington, and so the other urgent question here is: Does Obama intend to do something now to al-Assad? Again, I doubt it. Everyone who consults with Washington has become convinced that the current administration does not intend to do anything against the al-Assad regime before the US presidential elections in three months’ time. We do not know if Prime Minister Erdogan, depending on what is happening on the ground in Syria, has managed to convince President Obama of the need to act now against al-Assad, and perhaps everything is possible, but it is certain that Obama has been speaking softly for quite some time, and he who kills women and children does not understand this language.

Of course, Obama is not required today to send his planes and armies to fight al-Assad, even the Syrian rebels are not calling for that, all that is required is to provide the necessary weaponry to the Free Syrian Army to deal with al-Assad’s aircraft that are targeting civilians, and to confront the tanks that are wreaking havoc in districts and cities. These weapons would accelerate the disintegration of al-Assad’s criminal forces. What is also required from President Obama today, through NATO and a coalition of countries willing, is to provide safe areas on Syria’s borders with Turkey and Jordan, which will ensure the collapse of al-Assad’s remaining troops.

What is required from the US administration is actions, not words, and if the picture of Obama holding a baseball bat has reminded us of the famous saying repeated by Roosevelt; “speak softly, and carry a big stick”, then President Obama’s policy towards Syria also reminds us of another famous saying in America, namely: “They talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk”.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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