Commentary

G8 Fails to Deliver on Syria

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The Group of Eight (G8) summit has ended in disappointment for those who expected a more robust response from eight of the world’s most powerful countries regarding the ongoing violence in Syria. The Russian president made clear his opposition to any possible intervention against the Assad regime and the Americans indicated a continuing reluctance to becoming involved. While the Russian position is hardly surprising, many have grown frustrated with what they consider a vacillating U.S. policy toward the region.

As the Peninsula editorial notes, the frustration of those who are in favor of a more robust Western engagement in Syria arose not from the fact that they expected the G8 leaders to resolve the conflict, since “The G8 summit wasn’t expected to come up with anything substantial to expedite Bashar Al Assad’s exit. Nor was it expected to reach any unanimous decision on Syria given the divergent views of its members. But the absolute failure of the world’s most powerful leaders to do anything to mitigate the suffering of Syrians is at odds with the responsibility and ethos of an organization that can change the world.”

After all, anyone following closely the developments leading up to the G8 summit knew what the Gulf Today staff believed to be a yawning gap between the U.S. and Russian positions on the situation: “U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin were staying in adjacent cottages as they attended the Group of Eight (G8) in Northern Ireland, but they could not be any further on the most contentious issue facing the G8 leaders — Russia’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad....In Moscow on Monday, the foreign ministry said Russia would not permit a no-fly zone to be imposed over Syria, an idea that media reports say is being mooted in Washington. Moscow also said it will not suspend arms supplies to the Assad regime.”

Russian opposition notwithstanding, many have expressed their frustration with a U.S. administration that seems to be at war with itself over the conflict in Syria. For example, the Daily Star (Lebanon) accuses the U.S. of waffling: “From day one of the Syrian uprising, the Americans have flip-flopped and zigzagged on all their words, an approach — if you can call it as much — which epitomizes that of all of Bashar Assad’s alleged foes....It is clear there is one camp in the U.S. administration who wishes to intervene on the ground, and it is this team which disseminates news of a no-fly zone plan being drafted. But there is likely another camp in possession of the opposite view....If the Americans do not intend to help the rebels, they are best to say as much, and refrain from using the war as a political tool against Russia. To continue to dangle the option of military aid in front of opposition fighters is not only cruel; it is prolonging this horrific conflict.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Eyad Abu Shakra compares President Obama’s indecisiveness with that of former President Jimmy Carter, whose moderation, according to Abu Shakra, was the source of the U.S. government’s weak response in the Middle East: “In reality, President Obama, who is serving his second term in office, has been doing nothing but making statements and expressing optimism of a change happening somehow somewhere, brushing off prospects of the U.S. being drawn into a confrontation….If Obama expects his opponents to make free gestures of goodwill, he will risk much of his credibility as well as present his Republican opponents with a valuable opportunity to emerge victorious at the next elections. Obama needs to recall the outcome of the moderation of Jimmy Carter’s administration, which was exploited by both his foreign and domestic opponents, and ended up being viewed as a prime example of weakness and lack of leadership.”

The bad news for Mr. Obama is that even recent signals from the U.S. administration in favor of arming the rebels in Syria are having little effect on the popularity of his policies in the region. In an op-ed for Al Arabiya, Hisham Melhem states plainly that President Obama’s decision should not be “considered a significant shift. It is certainly not a strategic move either, but a limited tactical one that does not live up to the level of military escalation adopted by the regime forces supported by Hezbollah fighters and Iran — a military escalation that has led to successes in Qusair and Damascus....The worst part for the Syrian opposition is that Obama allowed Putin in the G8 Summit to impose a veto on the final statement — a veto against mentioning that it is necessary to get rid of Assad during the transitional phase. Obama’s policy toward Syria is still hesitant and cautious.”

Following the failure of the G8 summit to address the Syrian conflict, the Saudi Gazette urges the U.S. administration to do more in terms of helping the rebels: “the decision does not appear to have the impact needed to tilt the balance in favor of the rebels....A more vigorous approach by Obama should be forthcoming, not just because of the chemical weapons revelation; the arrival of thousands of seasoned Hezbollah fighters helping Al-Assad combat the rebels has shifted the momentum of the battle, especially after the fall of the strategic town of Qusair to the government. But Obama will still probably continue to tread carefully.”

Some have posited that Obama’s reluctance to become involved in the region has much to do with the much ballyhooed “pivoting” of the U.S. military and foreign policy focus to the Far East. This is part of the argument of Al Hayat’s Randa Takieddine: “Obama's policy on the struggle in Syria signals a new era of U.S. policy in the Middle East, one of abandonment and looking to other areas of the world, such as the Far East and Africa....How can any friend of the U.S. in the Middle East trust an American policy that turns the region over to Israel and Russia, and surrenders to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and the country's supreme leader, Khamenei?...The G-8 Summit cemented this painful reality; the situation in Syria will become more tragic and Putin is going ahead with his Chechnya in the Middle East, until further notice.”

But perhaps, as Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed explains in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, there are simpler reasons for the lack of appetite on the part of the United States and some of its allies to become too involved in the conflict in Syria: the internal dynamics of the opposition in Syria: “Two problems threaten the future of Syria: Some of the rebels inside Syria, and the political opposition outside the country. Firstly, there are armed groups that are not under the control of the Free Syrian Army, and the Assad regime has successfully portrayed them in a way that intimidates the rest of the world. Secondly, the opposition has failed to prove that it is a better alternative to Bashar Al-Assad. What worries both the West and the Arabs is not ‘cannibals,’ but members of the civilian opposition wearing ties in Istanbul and in other countries. Perhaps the West is looking for an excuse for its failure and inactivity, but there is a serious problem of a lack of wise and united political leadership.”


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