by Farideh Farhi
Following declarations that the Obama administration could soon strike Syria, very little has been left unsaid. The fact that President Barack Obama has been a reluctant warrior lends weight to the justification of his attack, we are told. Surely a reluctant warrior would not use a humanitarian disaster as a cover. We should also know that given the “red line” he drew last year, America’s credibility is on the line. And of course we are reminded of the need for the US to be the protector of the global and civilized norm against the use of chemical weapons.
None of these arguments will convince the critics of military action.
President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel are hardly Dr. Strangeloves sitting on a bomb directed at Damascus, but the lack of clarity on what happens the day after seems reckless. If the Assad regime used chemicals weapons, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that half-hearted military action — designed to punish but not remove Assad from power — will encourage further use of the weapons and more devastation?
Yes, US credibility is on the line, but attaching credibility to martial muscle could entail the further loss of it in more important areas. The revelation that in the midst of a humanitarian crisis the political class in Washington seems focused on launching cruise missiles can itself reflect a serious lack of credibility and failure in global leadership; this one built upon moral and ideological bankruptcy.
There may be some people in Syria and elsewhere in the region who will cheer military action, but if the Obama administration is unable to use it to exhibit some sort of leadership and bring an end to Syria’s tragedy through a serious political process like in Egypt, the move will be despised by all sides.
It’s been suggested that Obama’s military action in Syria will pose a major dilemma for Iran’s new moderate government as it contemplates what to do in a domestic environment in which Iran’s hardliners will be pushing for a response. It won’t. Jasmin has already pointed to the mild reaction from Tehran. The reality is that Obama’s military action will make the Syria tragedy his and not Iran’s. And in Iran’s post-election environment, in which the country has moved towards national reconciliation — both among the elite and between the government and population — nothing suits the Islamic Republic better than divesting itself from this issue quietly.
The hardline argument for strongly supporting the Assad regime won in Tehran when his downfall was stated as Washington’s — as well as Riyadh’s and Tel Aviv’s — desired outcome in the name of weakening the Islamic Republic. But events in Syria are now well beyond the proxy war stage. They are out of control and have spilled into adjacent countries. Of course, Iran does not share borders with Syria. Rather and more importantly, the ideology that the Syrian tragedy has spawned with ample support from Saudi and Qatari funds — one that is anti-Shia, anti-Iran, anti-US and anti-Semite (even if it may not necessarily be virulently anti-Israel for now) — is more of a problem for whichever country ends up owning this issue. And owning it is exactly what the Obama administration is about to do, even if it acts in the name of credibility and/or punishment and reportedly only through a barrage of Tomahawks for a few days.