Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The Consequences of Obama Hesitation in Syria Deepen
Much of the West is watching rescue efforts following the gigantic tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma - and our thoughts and prayers go out to the decimated town's citizens. But events have been moving rapidly on several fronts in another devastated region - Syria. Despite recent rebel setbacks in Syria's civil war - which could either be an indication that stalemate has been reached between al-Assad and rebel forces or that the continuing Russian supply of missiles and other materiel is propping up an otherwise weakening regime - the main opposition coalition has indicated that it will make demands to protect its position as it considers whether to attend possible peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad's regime sponsored by America and Russia. The Syrian National Coalition said the group wants ironclad guarantees of al-Assad's departure as part of any transition deal and more weapons for rebel fighters. Last weekend, al-Assad also took a tough stance, saying once again he won't step down before elections are held. At the same time, his troops launched an attack against Qusair, a rebel-held town in western Syria, the latest in a series of military gains by the regime. The US-Russia effort to organize a peace conference has been overshadowed by disagreements, particularly over Russian shipments of advanced missiles to al-Assad. The Russian missiles may be playing an important part in the recent al-Assad successes in retaking rebel-held areas. While Russian arms shipments to al-Assad continue unabated, the West, and in particular the United States, has been reluctant to arm the rebels, because of concerns such weapons will fall into the hands of Islamic militants with ties to the al-Qaida network. Britain and France have been breaking out of that consensus in recent weeks, arguing that al-Assad will only negotiate seriously if the rebels can pressure him militarily. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday, "We must make it clear that if the regime does not negotiate seriously at the Geneva conference, no option is off the table." And while Obama administration officials have refused to rule out the participation of Assad's biggest military backer, Iran, French President Hollande says it does not want Iran to attend. But, the weekend thrust of al-Assad forces in an effort to retake Qusair, a strategic rebel-held town between Damascus and the Lebanese border, in the heartland of Assad's Alawite sect, is important for several reasons. It has drawn Hezbollah overtly into the Syrian civil war. Between 14 and 23 Hezbollah fighters in Syria have been killed, depending on the source. Whether Hezbollah is in Syria because they feel their ally, al-Assad, threatened or because Iran, who supplies Hezbollah with arms and other support, has encouraged them to intervene, the result is likely to be the drawing of Lebanon into the Syrian conflict. Lebanon has taken Hezbollah into its weak coalition government not out of friendship but because Hezbollah has the strongest military in Lebanon. And if Lebanon falls firmly into the hands of Hezbollah and Iran, Israel's northern border will be compromised, making an Israeli intervention to restore quiet in the volatile Golan Heights and southern Lebanon region very likely. ~~~~~ Dear readers, we are beginning to see the more serious effects of the Obama hands-off position in Syria. The combination of Syria becoming an even more dependent client state of Russia and Iran, the entry of Hezbollah directly on the side of al-Assad, the infiltration of groups with al-Qaida ties on the rebel side because of the lack of western support for their cause -- these are all symptons of the power vacuum created by Obama's hesitation. Europe is trying to fill the gap but it is only Israel that can readily put a lid in a regional collapse into sectarian conflict. And that will inevitably draw America into the wars. "Pay me now or pay me later," as the old saying goes. Mr. Obama should have considered the consequences of American inaction publicly pointed out to him early on in the Syrian rebellion. It may well be too late now.