March 13, 2012 Special Dispatch No. 4569

Saudi Daily 'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat': Obama Is Responsible for Ongoing Crisis in Syria

March 13, 2012
Syria | Special Dispatch No. 4569

In light of the ongoing violence in Syria and the helplessness of the Arab world and the international community to stop it, several Arab columnists leveled harsh criticism at the U.S. and U.S. President Barack Obama for their handling of the crisis. The columnists, most prominent among them Tariq Alhomayed, editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, accused the U.S. of misreading the situation in the Middle East, of failing to take a firm stand against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and even of counting on Bashar Al-Assad's ability to quash the protests and keep the Syrian people in line.

The following are excerpts from the columns:

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: "Obama Is Also A Problem"

In column titled "Obama Is Also A Problem," Al-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tariq Al-Homayed stated that the American president, who is more concerned with getting re-elected than with the security of the Middle East and the world, has failed to take a firm stand against Assad and to support the revolution, and furthermore has objected to arming the Syrian opposition, even repeating the Syrian regime's claim that Al-Qaeda is operating in Syria. Alhomayed added that the U.S. is known for its flawed grasp of the reality in the region, as exemplified by its decision to withdraw from Iraq and leave it in the hands of Iran.

The following are excerpts from the column, as published in the English edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:[1]

"It Is Clear That Obama Is Not Concerned With the Security Of the Region – Even Though It Impacts International Security As a Whole... – [But] Is Preoccupied With His Reelection Bid"

"The blame for the situation in Syria does not lie with Russia alone. One of the biggest problems is also the Obama administration, which has squandered a golden opportunity to get rid of a significant obstacle to security in the region, and by extension [to] U.S. national security, [namely] Bashar Al-Assad. However, it is clear that Obama is not concerned with the security of the region – even though it impacts international security as a whole... – [but] is preoccupied with his reelection bid.

"The U.S. administration has directed as much blame towards the Syrian opposition as it has towards Assad, if not more. What is worse, and [is] indeed a major scandal, is that the Obama administration has said that there could be an Al-Qaeda presence (among the opposition) in Syria – even though Al-Qaeda ran rampant in Iraq under the auspices of the Assad regime.

"I say that this is a scandal because the American newspaper The Washington Post reported, quoting U.S. intelligence agents, that the only evidence Washington has of an Al-Qaeda presence in Syria is the style – yes the style – of the bombing that took place in Damascus, and nothing more! It is the Obama administration that is calling for the Syrian opposition to unify [its] ranks, yet Washington knows full well that the unification of the opposition requires international support and hard work – not mere statements –in any situation.

"The Problem With the Current U.S. Administration Is That It Is Notorious For Misinterpreting Events In the Region"

"The problem with the current U.S. administration is that it is notorious for misinterpreting events in the region. Suffice it to consider Obama's dealings with the Green Revolution [in Iran]: instead of supporting it, he decided to withdraw from Iraq, leaving it in the hands of Al-Maliki and Tehran.

"With regard to Syria, the Obama administration says that the Assad regime is still cohesive, [and] this is to be expected, for several reasons. Washington knows the extent of [the] Iranian support for Al-Assad in terms of arms, money, men, equipment and all manner of resources – [assistance which reaches Syria] via Iraq.

"This makes it difficult for any Syrian official to defect. How [can] they [defect] when they don't see Obama taking any form of serious stand, and instead opposing the armament of the Syrian opposition and refusing to declare that overthrowing the tyrant in Damascus is an issue of national security? How [can] a full military division defect when there is no buffer zone to ensure the [safety] of the defectors and to help them reorganize their ranks? Those who defected in Libya went to Benghazi, but where [can] the Syrian defectors go?

"Let Us Recall the Era Of George W. Bush, When the U.S. Administration Brandished the Stick [At] Assad After the Assassination Of Rafiq Al-Hariri"

"If the Obama administration wants to see significant and rapid [defections], then it must adopt a firm stance. Let us recall the era of George W. Bush, when the U.S. administration brandished the stick [at] Assad after the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri, with an international tribunal just around the corner... Where is the stick today, and where is the international tribunal?

"Furthermore, reading recent history, we find that no one defected from Saddam Hussein's regime prior to the U.S. invasion, and even in the early days [of the invasion itself], because at the time all members [of the regime] were aware that their families would be targeted. The Assad regime is worse than Saddam's [regime] in that regard. But first and foremost, how can the Syrians mobilize when they don't see a serious stance coming from Washington?

"So the problem is not Russia alone, but also the hesitance of President Obama and his administration. Events have been interpreted in the wrong manner, the Syrians have been left alone to face the crimes of the Al-Assad regime, and the biggest chance to create stability in the region and curtail Iran's influence has been lost. So who will tell Obama this?"

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Columnist: The U.S. Administration Counted On Assad's Ability to Oppress the People and Discipline Them

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Mundhir 'Id Al-Zamalkani, a researcher at the Syrian Studies Center at St. Andrews University in Britain, wrote in a similar vein: "...The truth is that the U.S. is responsible for [letting] the Syrian crisis assume [such proportions], because it misread the course of events. If the American administration continues to act so slowly, or negligently, the results will no doubt be devastating.

"The American administration counted on Bashar [Al-Assad's] ability to oppress the Syrian people and discipline them, like his father did before him. It forgot that power is not an inherited trait but an acquired one. Had the U.S. intervened [in the Syrian crisis] from the start, [employing both] force and wisdom, along with its allies in the East and the West, and had it heeded the [Syrian] people's demands and understood the changes taking place at the present stage, the situation in Syria would have been much better [today].

"All the extensions granted to Bashar Al-Assad were to no avail, and future extensions will not help either, no matter why they are given. And this for one reason, namely that the Syrian people has changed, and no longer fears death. In fact, it has begun to seek death. Thus, the Americans were mistaken not only in their reading of the political and strategic [situation], but also in their reading of the psychological [state] of the Syrian people...

"America's greatest mistake is its failure to understand that a leader... regardless of whether he is a collaborator or a hero, and regardless of his prominence, is useless if he becomes a liability..."[2]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Columnist: Obama's Stance on Syria Is Meant to Please AIPAC and Attract Jewish Votes

Another Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist, Iyad Abu Shaqra, attacked the U.S. for failing to support the Syrian uprising even though it purports to champion the rights of the peoples:

"Russia, China and Iran are sincere in their practical support of the Syrian regime and in their approval of its brutal suppression [of the uprising]... But the gravest blow to the Syrian revolution – which is undoubtedly the most honorable and bravest of the Arab revolutions – came from parties who could have been expected to defend it.

"In the past, the U.S. did not express support for popular uprisings in the Third World. But in 1989, when the Cold War ended and the U.S. became the sole ruler of the world, it changed its position and started to support the peoples' right to self-determination...

"This administration was quick to pull the rug out from under two regimes [i.e. the regimes of Tunisia and Egypt] that were long considered by their rivals [in the Arab world] to be subordinates of Washington. Next, the U.S. administration [also] led a military alliance that toppled the oppressive and backward regime in Libya...

"But suddenly, after [all this] unparalleled enthusiasm... Washington revealed its priorities regarding Syria, which since 1970 has been ruled by one of the most tyrannical and brutal military regimes in the Middle East.

"Over the 12 months of the rebelling Syrians' heroic intifada, the official stance of the U.S., and with it the political discourse in the E.U., became gradually more feeble: [the initial] encouragement and praise for the revolution, and the promises of support, [were replaced by] mere criticism of the regime, sanctions of limited effectiveness against its leaders, expressions of hope for its imminent demise, and, ultimately, sincere expressions of concern over the revolution's possible success, which might benefit the Islamist fundamentalists!

"Is there any explanation for this position? [The explanation can] naturally [be found] in the speech that U.S. President Barack Obama gave in Washington to AIPAC, the strongest Israeli lobby – [a speech that was] a cheap appeal for [Jewish] votes..."[3]


[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat English edition (London), March 12, 2012. The text has been lightly edited for clarity.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 12, 2012.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 12, 2012.

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