@NicholasNoe in Middle East Eye: “Obama’s Middle East policy might lead to Assad’s exit after all”
Obama’s Middle East policy might lead to Assad’s exit after all
by Nicholas Noe
Throughout the last three and a half years, the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was routinely, and sometimes quite irresponsibly, proclaimed as being just around the corner.
The results of this widespread practise are well-known no matter which side of the policy debate you have been on: falsely raised expectations among activists, over-confidence and over-reach practised by many of Assad’s foes and a grinding slide into a devastating civil war that some policymakers wrongly believed could be significantly attenuated by a collapse-on-the-cheap.
Now, however, with reports of a series of major battlefield defeats, top-level infighting, the overall exhaustion of the Syrian Arab Army and an apparently well-coordinated military push arranged under the somewhat unlikely alliance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, Assad’s exit in the near or medium term has finally moved from being an exaggerated hope to a real possibility.
Despite all of the blame that US President Barack Obama has taken for the Syrian civil war, its exceptionally bloody prolongation and the many terrible consequences the war has spawned, not least of which is ISIS, he deserves some credit for his actions.
Two strategic decisions and recent rhetoric supporting regionally led military offensives have actually laid the foundation for this point – a point where Assad’s end isn’t likely to lead, as was previously the case, to a major regional war that very well could have involved weapons of mass destruction.
Of course, this will provide little consolation for the dead or their devastated kin, much less for those who called early on for a strong US-led military intervention; or, as I did, an early negotiated settlement with Assad that would have averted the current disaster in the heart of the Middle East and saved countless lives, at the cost of delaying the legitimate right of Syrians to be free of a ruthless dictator.
Be that as it may, Obama’s success in removing Assad’s extensive chemical weapons threat between 2013 and 2014 and his progressive engagement (and the possible nuclear accord this summer) with Iran, are both underwriting the current military offensive that America’s allies in the region are apparently leading against Assad.
Indeed, both of these policy decisions have turned the dangerous “fantasy” of intervention into a potentially reasonable option, precisely because Obama has manoeuvred Assad and his most important backer, Iran, into an exceedingly tight space. On the one hand, Assad no longer possesses the reasonable threat of using his strategic “Samson Option” – ie, in the event of an impending collapse he and/or his immediate circle could launch the plethora of chemical weapons he used to possess against Israel or any other regional enemies…