Some people believe that America has lost its aura, especially since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution. What is irrational about this view is the fact that those who share it have linked America’s status and prestige to its hesitation to interfere in Syria. Based on this, they are saying that Uncle Sam has lost his teeth, not least since the blatant Russian intervention in Syria.
It is naïve and foolish to describe US President Barack Obama’s policy towards Syria, and the Middle East in general, as “confused”, “hesitant”, “cold” and “indifferent”. Do people not know that “indifference” in politics is a policy in itself and that hesitancy is not actually hesitation, but a deliberate move? The problem with most of those who think this way is that they do not follow the US statements or presidential platforms and programmes proposed by would-be presidents in order to reach the White House.
Americans are usually blunt, brazenly so, when it comes to their foreign strategies and policies. They do not beat around the bush; rather they announce their project to the media openly. The problem with the Arabs is that they do not read this until it is too late.
The Obama administration has said time and time again, during his first term in office, that the president will take a completely different political path to that of his predecessor George W Bush. Obama had come with a programme that went against Bush’s policies, which cost America a lot militarily, economically and politically. Obama said explicitly that he wanted to play quietly, aware of the political chaos that characterised the era of his predecessor.
In other words, Obama dispelled the image of the political “cowboy” that prevailed in previous American administrations. The US president no longer reaches for his gun every time a fly flies in front of him; instead, he has started to think in a more subtle and calm manner about how to achieve goals and strategies. Some may say that the “cowboy” mentality brought the Americans many catastrophes and hatred, especially in their recent foreign adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that they are now afraid of this disastrous policy, and they may be right. However, they are also capable of achieving what they want without resorting to Bush-style recklessness. Ever since the beginning of his presidency, Obama has said that he would rely on “intelligence wars” rather than military wars, since they are more effective and far less expensive. We have seen this during the Syrian conflict, as the Americans have given the impression that they are disinterested, indifferent or confused about the situation. The CIA, meanwhile, has been carrying out operations within Syria from their stations on the Turkish border.
While America was watching the various forces tearing each other apart in Syria, just as Washington wanted, we heard many media outlets talking about the US distance from the conflict. Since Obama became president, many Americans have relied on the principle of “backseat driving”, allowing those on the ground to drive according to the directions and instructions provided by the US, without making any noise or commotion.
The Americans are no longer willing to interfere directly in any conflict. This was pointed out by the veteran diplomat Henry Kissinger in a number of newspaper articles regarding Obama’s administration. Kissinger even called on Washington to pay due regard to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which calls for respect to be shown to the sovereignty of other countries. This, of course, has a negative ulterior motive, as under the pretext of respecting the sovereignty of other countries, this new Kissinger diplomacy achieves all that it wants without interfering blatantly in the affairs of others, as it did in the past. It is worth noting that even the US air strikes on Al-Qaeda areas in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia were carried out by drones to avoid the loss of American pilots. And did the Americans lose a single soldier in Libya?
Those who believe that the US was weak when it negotiated with Iran are mistaken. Absolutely not; US force and power can destroy the world one hundred times over. However, the US-Obama policy also aims to restore balance to the American economy, and so the current administration does not want to engage in costly new overseas adventures as long as it is able to achieve what it wants by means of “soft power”. Hence, it believes that negotiating with Iran and sanctions are more effective than wars.
Those who describe the Obama administration’s current policy regarding the Middle East as “stupid” do not know anything about politics. The American policy that some call “stupid” stripped Syria of its strategic chemical weapons, something that none of the wars in the region was able to achieve, and it now has its sights set on matters other than such weapons. More importantly, it reined in Iran’s nuclear project without losing one dollar or one soldier. Compare the amount of money spent by America on its escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan — trillions of dollars — to what it is spending on the Syrian and Iranian issues.
The US has achieved for itself and its closest ally Israel everything it wanted by means of working in line with the famous principle of Napoleon: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” It spent billions of dollars to push back Iraq to the Stone Age, as promised by the then Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld. However, in Syria, it achieved everything it achieved in Iraq for free, albeit at the expense of Syrian blood and bodies and the wealth of others. If this American policy of “confusion, indifference, and stupidity” was able to achieve all of these results, what if the policy was smart? The Obama administration achieved in Iran and Syria what America failed to achieve over the past twenty years with regards to the Middle East and ensuring Israel’s security, but how? With only talk-talk, keeping calm, hesitation and studied indifference?
US journalist Thomas Friedman said in the New York Times after the Russian intervention in Syria: “Bravo Obama. Stay far away and let them get involved.” Before him, the White House Chief of Staff said that the situation in Syria is ideal for the US, as “the bad guys are burning each other.” Those who said that America seems to be bowing down are right, but it is bowing down to win. It hasn’t lost its aura; it’s simply changed its strategy.
Translated from Alkhaleejonline, 10 October 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.