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Is there a change in Obama’s no-bluffing policy in Syria?

Obama’s allies in the region, explicitly Turkey, repeatedly offered him options which avoided a full-scale offensive. People are striving for feasible solutions such as a no-fly zone for refugees.

May 26, 2016 at 1:31 pm

In his article in the Atlantic entitled “The Obama Doctrine”, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that US President Barack Obama stated passionately: “Big nations don’t bluff”. Obama’s strategy towards the Middle East was stated clearly; he is not a fan of liberal interventionists and prefers to refrain from jumping in with both feet. Will he maintain this strategy that has proven to be inhumane, or will he endorse the ruthless rampaging of his predecessor George W. Bush?

The American administration’s practices in Syria prove that Obama is not bluffing when it comes to the strategies he outlined for his administration. Goldberg didn’t reveal a secret when he declared that Obama is a big admirer of Brent Scowcroft, Bush’s national security adviser. Obama told Goldberg that he knows that it is not only the strength of the American army that makes the US a great undefeatable power; it is its cunning manner.

Scowcroft succeeded in kicking Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait and neatly nurtured the crumbling of the Soviet Union with the empowerment of allies in the region, he explained. Nonetheless, Obama is not naïve to stubbornly insist on a sole strategy; he discerns that war is deception and tactics should match the vicissitudes on the ground.

Last February, both the United States and Russia reached an agreement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria paving the way for peace talks in Geneva. However, in an attempt to improve Assad’s conditions of negotiations, the Russian air force carried out a ferocious series of attacks to force the opposition factions to kneel before Al-Assad; this didn’t happen. Recently, the Syrian rebels snubbed the American-Russian call for a new deal till Al-Assad and his backers show thorough respect to previous deals of cessation of atrocities.

Almost a month ago, after years of reluctance, Obama proclaimed that he will be deploying boots on the ground by sending 250 additional troops to eastern Syria to join the previously deployed 50 Special Forces. Officially, these troops aren’t on a combat mission; they are intelligence agents and professional trainers of local security forces that are battling Daesh. They will collect intelligence information, identify targets for drone attacks and harmonise the forces of “moderate rebels”.

The troops include American commandos and special agents who will accomplish Obama’s biggest triumph, the assassination of the “caliph” of Daesh or at least senior leaders of Al-Nusra Front in the same manner that Special Forces succeeded in assassinating Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in a drone attack in Pakistan last week. It seems that Obama intends to leave the oval office with a “colossal accomplishment” to boast of, similar to the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011.

Moscow suggested that the US-led coalition against Daesh should fly joint airstrikes with Russia in Syria. Washington promptly turned down the Russian proposition.

Such a quick vehement American reaction displays Obama’s unequivocal stance to repeat his fatal mistake; he doesn’t want to replicate what he called his “worst mistake” in Libya, where the US-led coalition demonstrated clumsiness and ineptitude in planning for Muammar Qaddafi’s departure. The US president has since acknowledged that intervention in Libya “didn’t work”; the country was left in pieces raged by chaos and the emergence of violent extremists.

The situation in Syrian is utterly different.

Russia claims that Obama has stifled the proposal to target both Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaish Al-Islam despite their record of atrocities.

Obama’s dismissal of the Russian initiative has precedents; in Goldberg’s narration, Secretary of State John Kerry has abortively pursued, on numerous junctures, to attain Obama’s endorsement of cruise missile raids against specific regime targets. However, Libya is always present in the mind of Obama and that raises a question of his honesty when calling for Al-Assad to leave.

Ironically, Obama’s “lessons learned” in Libya didn’t bear fruit in Syria. The country has witnessed complete chaos, its complete destruction and the expanding of extremists under the auspices of his non-interventionism strategy.

Assuredly, defenders of Obama’s vision in the Middle East would claim that it is in fact confusing and perplexing; are the Syrian people calling the United States to militarily intervene to halt Al-Assad’s unrestrained brutality? If this does occur, would it be labelled colonization and an uprising be called for against it?

Obama’s reluctance to target Russian designated rebel groups could be understood in two contexts: Obama’s vision is to prevent Russia gaining more influence in the region by supporting Islamist groups.

Or, in a more sophisticated milieu, Obama may intend to strengthen some “moderate rebel” factions and Kurdish militias, in the hope  that eventually these warring parties will wear each other down.

Whether we like it or not, the United States is the “superpower” that wields enough military political and economic might all over the world and is the most influential player in the region’s turmoil; no proposition or solution can be validated without the consent and go-ahead of the Oval Office.

Obama told Goldberg: “For all our warts, the United States has clearly been a force for good in the world… If you compare us to previous superpowers, we act less on the basis of naked self-interest, and have been interested in establishing norms that benefit everyone.”

The lack of a comprehensive, cohesive US strategy appears to show that America no longer fights for morals, against poverty and cares for its neighbours, as perhaps it once did. Innocent people are being killed while pseudo-democracies are watching, their citizens will are not going to forgive easily. The people of Syria and Iraq can no longer buy Obama’s hypocritical policies.

Obama’s allies in the region, explicitly Turkey, repeatedly offered him options which avoided a full-scale offensive. People are striving for feasible solutions such as a no-fly zone for refugees.

All these options have become dreams slithering away as more civilians are being slaughtered. It’s a final chance for Obama to change his policy if he is genuinely honest about having a peace process and not utterly drenched in deception and bluffing; he should use his leverage to impose a transitional government after Al-Assad’s departure. However, the idea that “big nations don’t bluff” is obviously a myth as Al-Assad does not appear to be leaving office any time soon.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.