Cold Geo-Politics on Syria

John Glaser, April 09, 2013

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In an Op-Ed at The Boston Globe, Thanassis Cambanis argues one reason the Obama administration hasn’t directly intervened militarily in Syria is because the long, drawn out conflict hurts America’s geo-political competitors.

The war is also becoming a sinkhole for America’s enemies. Iran and Hezbollah, the region’s most persistent irritants to the United States and Israel, have tied up considerable resources and manpower propping up Assad’s regime and establishing new militias. Russia remains a key guarantor of the government, costing Russia support throughout the rest of the Arab world. Gulf monarchies, which tend to be troublesome American allies, have invested small fortunes on the rebel side, sending weapons and establishing exile political organizations. The more the Syrian war sucks up the attention and resources of its entire neighborhood, the greater America’s relative influence in the Middle East.

Last month I wrote a controversial post about Obama’s apparent “pro-Assad policy.” I say it was controversial because people worried about yet another US war in the Middle East have been arguing since the start of the Syrian conflict that it provides the US with an opportunity to topple the Assad regime, eliminate Iran’s major ally, and set up a new client state that would conform to US demands.

But as I wrote, that’s not what we’ve seen. It’s true that Obama has sent non-lethal and (indirectly) lethal aid to the rebels, despite the fact that the great bulk of the fighters who actually matter are jihadists. But the truth is, Obama has ruled out sending decisive aid, lethal or non-lethal, to Syria’s rebels. He reportedly overruled the suggestions of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey – all of whom advocated arming the rebels. Instead, Obama made policy moves like designating the al-Qaeda in Iraq offshoot in Syria a terrorist organization and pressuring Saudi Arabia not to send heavier arms like anti-aircraft weapons.

In the last few weeks, it has been revealed that the CIA is boosting support to Iraqi militias (Baghdad is an ally of Assad) with the aim of clamping down on al-Qaeda affiliates there pouring into Syria to join the rebellion. The Obama administration even considered a request from the Iraqi government to use drones to bomb Islamist rebel forces along the Iraq-Syria border.

When I posed this “pro-Assad” hypothesis to former CIA intelligence officer and Antiwar.com columnist Phil Giraldi, he concurred.

“I think you are right that Obama has come around to the view that regime change is more fraught with dangers than letting Assad remain,” Giraldi said.

The ongoing conflict in Syria isn’t perceived in Washington as harming US interests, but – according to Cambanis – it is seen as draining the resources and influence of Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia. This is valuable to US strategists at a time when the relative balance of US power is seen as waning.

So despite the fears of non-interventionists, it doesn’t look like the Obama administration is prepared to impose regime change in Syria through military action, thereby draining more US resources, increasing anti-American sentiment, creating a power vacuum where jihadists are likely to seize power, and obligating America to another decade of wasteful counter-insurgency and  nation-building in the Middle East. Not when an ongoing stalemate does more for US interests.




16 Responses to “Cold Geo-Politics on Syria”

  1. Absolutely agreed! The relative neutrality towards Syrian civil war is the best strategy for us. Finally people are beginning to recognize Obama's strategies as well thought-out and successful, rather than just "passive" or "fearful" as he has been criticized in the past. Watching him over past 5 years, most of the time I've concluded our president is an excellent strategist.

  2. Thanks Mark, I just puked a little

  3. The Boston Globe article says, "a throwback to the imperial age when competing powers often encouraged distant wars to weaken rivals". Well when did that ever really change? In 1990 after the USSR went down, we only had a decade of temporary reprieve, that's all. It's not a 'throwback", it has been the status quo throughout the history of mankind; it does not actually change, It merely fluctuates.

  4. "regime change is more fraught with dangers than letting Assad remain,”
    To who, or what?
    For decades Assad and the other puppets have controlled the region for Washington. That era is over,
    as Gadaffi discovered too late. And the sooner Obama plans with that reality in mind the better.

  5. We seem to be racing around the same circuit again.

    Of course it is in the Obama-Kerry regime's interest to start proxy wars to weaken rivals.

    Obama is not "neutral" to Syria and failed to attack directly.
    He does not wish to abandon Plausible Deniability becasue it would look bad at home and demonstrators would be marching.

    Instead this is the classical Covert Operation, which will also have gone out under his signature since a "Finding" has to be raised to authorise one. using Assets and paramilitaries and arming them, with the object of Regime Change.

    But with the "Braindead" policy of using Sunni Jihadists to effect it.

  6. [...] Non-interventionists have decried the administration’s pretense of aiding the rebels, and rightly so. But many are also wedded to the belief that Washington is engaged in an effort to impose regime change and establish a client state in Syria, simultaneously eliminating Iran’s major ally. As I’ve written, however, this is not the reality. [...]

  7. Obama is utterly spineless. That said, "The better part of valor is discretion."

  8. [...] than letting Assad remain.” There is even some reason to believe that the war in Syria is draining the resources and credibility of Washington’s geo-political foes (Iran, Russia, etc.), thus serving as a further [...]

  9. It is truly sad to see that the lessons of libya have not been learned. The same people who you protected from gadafis forces ended up slaughtering your ambassador. The day the U.S. realizes that it does NOT have true friends in countries like Israel and Saudie arabia but frenemies is the day things will change for America…. maybe.

  10. let the syrians determine their future. if that means Assad slaughters all the sunnis in that country it is still a better outcome than what will happen if sunni extremists take over. if the GCC backed extremists take over I see a regional war breaking out that will make assads crimes seem like a vacation compared to what will follow. Let people decide their own future.

  11. [...] dangers than letting Assad remain.” There is even some reason to believe that the war in Syria isdraining the resources and credibility of Washington’s geo-political foes (Iran, Russia, etc.), thus serving as a further disincentive [...]

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  15. [...] is siding with Sunni jihadists in Syria to unseat the Assad regime. I’ve argued that is not what is happening, or at least that it is grossly [...]

  16. [...] administration is siding with Sunni jihadists to unseat the Assad regime. I’ve argued that is not what is happening, or at least that it is grossly [...]