September 06, 2013

Obama’s search for lost say in Middle East

Divya Kumar Soti (The writer is a national security analyst). (VIEWS OF THE WRITER ARE PERSONAL).


As the United States (US) inches towards diving in Syrian conflict, dilemmas afflicting Obama’s Middle-East policy become more evident. Since the Arab Spring got spontaneously triggered on Tahrir square in Cairo, White House had to repeatedly make distasteful choices in the Middle-East.

Arab spring has unsettled the “old order” of cold-war vintage in Middle-East which consisted of US and Soviet backed dictators.

This “old order” had provisions for geo-political balance among regional powers and Shia-Sunni blocks and provided greatest stability one could hope for in Middle-East.

This has led to Washington’s regional allies like Saudi and Qatar Royals make their own choices in Egyptian and Syrian conflicts.

These regional powers are now locked in bitter proxy wars where they sponsor groups which they see as best furthering their interests.

The conflict in Middle-East now transcends Shia-Sunni or pro-anti US dividing lines and ideological hues are getting increasingly blurred.

As US given its pro-democracy rhetoric was left with no option but to publicly support anti-Mubarak forces in Egypt; Saudi Royals, who are extremely uncomfortable with rise of Muslim Brotherhood which they see as greatest threat to their regime, teamed up with the Egyptian Army and got the Morsi regime overthrown.
Again White House had to favour the new military backed government and toe the Saudi line. In the meantime, Qatar continues to lend covert support to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Arab spring’s jasmine revolutions have destabilized the nations like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. Whatever choices US made willingly or unwillingly in these countries are turning out to be wrong. New governments are struggling and Islamists are gaining in all these countries.

In Syria, Obama has but all the bad choices. With Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey sponsoring different opposition groups which include Al- Qaeda and its affiliate Al-Nusra Front, CIA remains perplexed as to implementing Obama’s decision of supplying arms to Syrian rebels through Turkey.
Throughout last year, White House could do little but to watch the different GCC countries compete with each for influence in Syria through their proxies
Admitting to this Secretary of State John Kerry told a Congressional hearing that unless US attacks Syria, US allies that are funding Al-Qaeda-aligned Syrian rebels will fund them even more.

However, Syria is not Iraq. Here there are real chemical weapons stockpiles and Al-Qaeda already has a strong presence on the ground. Obama came to office with an anti-war stance and Americans have no appetite left for ground operations. A limited air offensive has evident limitations.

As Obama is pushed towards launching military strikes against Assad regime by GCC States and Israel, which share the same aim of dismantling the Iran led “Resistance Axis”, we are all set to witness the greatest of ironies of our times, that is, US and Al-Qaeda working on the same object.

However, US intervention in Syria can only aggravate the Middle-East crisis. Obama has the option of just punishing Assad and refrain from massive bombardment but there are no guarantees that violence will not spill out in Middle-East.

On t he other hand, a larger air offensive which can topple Assad will l eave Chemical Weapon stockpiles unsecured and put Al-Qaeda linked groups in government.

The only policy objective which Obama may hope to fulfill by intervening in Syria is that US will again be taking lead in Middle-East politics and not just dragged along by the policy of its allies.

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