mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
The Sunnis vs Assad
The Wages of Leading from Behind

Turkey’s foreign minister has announced that the United States had agreed to “in principle” provide joint air support to some mainstream opposition forces in their fight against Bashar al-Assad’s government. Though anonymous Obama administration officials said that a final decision had not yet been made, that such escalation is being contemplated probably reflects Washington’s belief that Assad’s days are numbered and a desire to be seen as part of a coalition that ultimately brings him down.

Over the weekend, details emerged as to how the increased cooperation between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC appeared to be turning the tide on the ground against Assad’s beleaguered troops—something we here at The American Interest have been covering since rumors of such a regional pact first began to leak. Assad’s core demographics seem to be bled white. The moment for his toppling may well be at hand.

But what could four years ago—or even one year ago—been a U.S. triumph now may be a much darker prospect indeed (if still better than the alternative). In order to make their pact work, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have decided to back al Qaeda’s powerful local franchise, Jabhat al-Nusra; furthermore, in forming the alliance, they pointedly declared that any adverse U.S. opinion to what Ankara and Riyadh were doing “would not have bothered us.”

Both the Turks and Saudis, resentful of past U.S. inaction on toppling Assad, which each sees as a major priority, will likely to continue to think this way when or if the time comes to make decisions about a post-Assad Syria. And so the United States will wind up not shaping events from the front, nor even leading from behind, but may well wind up running after the bandwagon yelling, “wait for me!”

We had better hope that somewhere in the West Wing, people are working on strategies that go beyond “sign the Iran deal and everything else will fall into place.”

Features Icon
show comments
  • FriendlyGoat

    What we are supposed to have learned is that the United States has not been, is not now, and CANNOT be leading the entire region of Islam. Except in the prospect of very broad occupation of several countries by USA forces on a permanent basis, the decisions about a post-Assad Syria are not ours to make. Nations such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey are correctly realizing it is their problem.

    • Arkeygeezer

      We should not get involved with this effort. We should not try to arm this group as there are enough arms in the middle east now. Sit back, contain the violence, and let the parties sort out their own neighborhood. (Gee, I agree with the Goat for once!)

      • FriendlyGoat

        Yes, and we probably both agree that we “wish” that EITHER of the competing visions of George W. Bush or Barack Obama had worked better than either of them did. But the factions of Islam, so far, have proven more intractable than anyone from either political side once imagined. This is shaping up to be a challenge only solvable by sensible Islamic leadership, something which seems missing at the moment.

        • Arkeygeezer

          I think that arguing about who had the better “vision” is a waste of time. The fact is that the policies of representatives of the United States have failed. The cause of the failure is that the U.S. tried to shape the future of the middle east without understanding what the people of the region wanted, culturally or spiritually.

          We now have to determine our policy for the future. I think that the future of the peoples of the region can only be shaped by the people that live there. We should stay out of it, quit fueling the fire with weapons, and use our resources to contain the violence to the region.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I hope that fair-minded people give both Bush and Obama some slack for both believing that elections and/or the prospects of elections in Islamic places would be more transforming than they actually have been. The results have been disappointing to everyone, probably especially disappointing to Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama.

  • Ellen

    Thank you TAI for your excellent coverage of the Syrian civil war and the most recent fateful turns of events. The US media has done a woeful job of covering this issue. The only informational coverage that I have found that isn’t partisan talking points comes from you and several Arab media outlets. Assad was losing, then he began to win, and now he is losing again,…ad nauseum.

    And yes you are right, Obama is jumping on the bandwagon because the rebels are going to crush the Syrian army and drive the Persian imperialists out of Syria and possibly Lebanon. He doesn’t want to look foolish having said repeatedly for years (including last week) that they could not defeat the Syrian/Iranian army. Oh yeah, well they are just about to in the next few weeks or months.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      This isn’t as over as you think. The future of Syria is anarchy, just like Libya, Somalia, and other Islamic failed states.

      • Ellen

        I agree the future will be anarchy, because the rebels cannot run a government. But, strictly from a military point of view, Obama justified his lack of intervention for years on the grounds that the rebels could not defeat the collapsing Syrian army. And Qassem Soleimani was such an imperial genius, who could possibly defeat his Shiite mercenaries? The answer is ISIS and Nusra, plus a few others, with Turkish coordination and Saudi money.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    This is another Libya, with no control after the dictator is gone, the Jihadists will be in charge of the anarchy that follows. Obama is by far the worst President in American History, his entire foreign policy is a Potemkin Village with no thought to a real strategy.

    • Ellen

      I totally agree. Tell that to his amen chorus in our media and in the academic ivory towers. These people plus Hollywood are responsible for him getting elected in 2012.

  • demboj

    Let me suggest that the right time to come to the aid of the Anti-Assad coalition will be after Iran realizes that their side is losing in Syria. So long as Assad thinks they are winning in Syria, they will not be forthcoming on a fair nuclear deal. When they realize they are on the losing side in Syria and that their Alewite and Hezbollah allies are facing genocide, their need to end the embargo on Iranian oil will become critical. When that happens they might be a little less reluctant to accept restrictions on their nuclear program.

  • ljgude

    I think the US could be usefully giving more support to the Kurds who are the moderate Muslims we in the West say we want. Al Sisi is another bright spot who has put the Muslim Brotherhood out of commission in Egypt and stated baldly that jihadi extremism is creating enmity toward islam in the rest of the world. I think what al Sisi is doing agrees with American interests way more than either Saudi Arabia or Turkey, much less Iran and that we will end up mending our fences with Egypt as soon as we have a new administration. I agree with those who say that the fall of Assad will lead to chaos and would add that a triple genocide of Alawites, Christians and Druze in that order will be difficult to prevent. The flow on to Lebanon seems uncertain to me where the dominant Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, is facing the loss of its near protector in the Syrian regime.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service