Monday, August 26, 2013

We aggress Syria at a time when the background looks like ...

Financial Times:
 "... How America responds will, in part, be dictated by how firmly Mr Obama decides to stick to his foreign policy strategy: he wants to lessen American involvement in the Middle East, so allowing him to concentrate on domestic reforms, addressing the rise of China and the perfection of his golf swing.Where possible, Mr Obama has preferred to let allies take more of the strain of unfolding events in the region. He let Britain and France take the lead in military operations in Libya - albeit with indispensable American help. Ideally, he would also like to respond to turmoil in the Middle East in concert with a group of like-minded regional allies.But there is a big problem with that strategy. Traditionally, US policy in the region rested on strong relations with five crucial players: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and the Gulf states. Whatever their differences on the surface, all these nations were status quo powers.However, the old status quo in the Middle East no longer exists - and America's traditional allies are now all pulling in different directions. The result is that the Obama administration will find it extremely difficult to forge a common regional approach to the turmoil. The situation in Egypt, more than Syria, has created irreconcilable differences between the US's partners.If Washington backed the Egyptian counter-revolution, it would delight some of its traditional friends in the region - and appal others. Saudi Arabia is America's oldest ally in the Middle East and it is also the chief cheerleader and regional supporter for the Egyptian military coup. Israel is also clearly quietly satisfied with the turn of events in Cairo.The Turkish government, however, is outraged by events in Egypt. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, is a leader that Mr Obama has carefully cultivated. According to a recent book by Vali Nasr, a former Obama administration official, the US president "phones [Mr] Erdogan often and has probably conferred with him more than he has with any other world leader".Yet Mr Erdogan is behaving increasingly erratically. He seems to fear that the street demonstrations in Turkey against his government are intended to set up a military coup, on the Egyptian model. Under pressure, he has resorted to increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories, implying last week that the Egyptian coup had been masterminded by Israel. Mr Obama thought that he had brokered an end to the war of words between Israel and Turkey - but that fragile entente is now breaking down again.Qatar, which has become an influential player in the region through the judicious use of vast quantities of money, is also host to the main US air base in the region. The Qataris are sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood - and therefore have been on the opposite side of the Egyptian argument from Israel and Saudi Arabia.On the surface, there is more regional unanimity about Syria. All of America's traditional friends in the region want to see the Assad regime go. The Saudis and the Israelis think that it would deal a huge blow to Iran, the regional rival that they fear most. The Qataris are big backers of the Syrian rebels and so are the Turks. The position of the new Egyptian regime on Syria is not yet clear - although it is suggestive that Mr Assad was evidently overjoyed by the coup in Cairo.Most of America's regional allies are keen to see the US get more heavily involved on the side of the Syrian rebels. The Israelis worry that if the Obama administration's red line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria is flagrantly crossed, with no response, then the red lines that the US has set for the Iranian nuclear programme will have no credibility. But the Israelis are also worried by the strong jihadist element in the Syrian rebel movement - and those concerns are expressed even more strongly by western intelligence services.As for Mr Obama, he fears that if the US responds to the urgings of its allies in the region and beyond, and gets directly or indirectly sucked into the fight against Mr Assad, it will end up being cheered on from the sidelines by allies who will sit out the fight themselves - and then blame America when things start to go wrong. This regional discord probably only strengthens Mr Obama's initial instinct to back away from the Middle East rather than to rush towards the sound of gunfire. But sometimes events take on a logic of their own. With an aerial attack on Syria looking ever more likely, it seems as if President Obama will be dragged ever deeper into the Middle East, against his own better judgment.'

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