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Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Assad is winning and why America is letting it happen

This analysis by Michael Hirsh is largely correct. Bashar al-Assad is looking at what's happening in Egypt and realizing that there is no way that the United States is going to help depose him. And given the alternatives, maybe that's how it ought to be for now.
[T]his week, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, finally said plainly what Obama administration officials have been thinking privately since June, the last time Washington said its "red line" had been crossed and pledged military aid to the Syrian rebels—then did nothing. In a letter to Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Dempsey said flatly that U.S. aid to the rebels know would just end up arming radical, possibly al-Qaida-linked groups. And Obama wasn't going to allow that to happen.
What it all means is that we may now be at a historic turning point in the Arab Spring—what is effectively the end of it, at least for now. Assad, says Syria expert Joshua Landis, is surely taking on board the lessons of the last few weeks: If the United States wasn't going to intervene or even protest very loudly over the killing of mildly radical Muslim Brotherhood supporters, it's certainly not going to take a firmer hand against Assad's slaughter of even more radical anti-U.S. groups. "With a thousand people dead or close to it, and America still debating whether to cut off aid, and how and when, that's got to give comfort to Assad," says Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma. "The Egyptians brushed off the United States and said…. Well, we don't want to end up like Syria. And America blinked. And Israel and the Gulf states were in there telling them to hit the protesters hard."
What began, in the U.S. interpretation, as an inspiring drive for democracy and freedom from dictators and public corruption has now become, for Washington, a coldly realpolitik calculation. As the Obama administration sees it, the military in Egypt is doing the dirty work of confronting radical political Islam, if harshly. In Syria, the main antagonists are both declared enemies of the United States, with Bashar al-Assad and Iran-supported Hezbollah aligning against al-Qaida-linked Islamist militias. Why shouldn't Washington's policy be to allow them to engage each other, thinning the ranks of each?  
And by all accounts, the administration and the Pentagon simply don't want to risk the "blowback" that could occur if the Assad regime collapses and serious weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaida.
President Obama's biggest problem in terms of his credibility is that he's wedded to a "narrative" that won't stand up to scrutiny any longer, says Landis. "We started this off saying it was about democracy and freedom. We've stuck to that interpretation. We didn't say this is about economic mismanagement and poverty," which is what the protests were largely about.  But now "nobody believes they're democrats anymore. That's the problem. What we saw in Egypt signals that America has changed its mind and has backed away from the Muslim Brotherhood and all these Islamic groups. And the Syrian rebel groups are to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood."
Given Obama's inability to admit mistakes (see, "Obamacare"), and his love for all things Islam ,we can only hope that he has actually backed off the Muslim Brotherhood. And he definitely missed the opportunity to depose Assad and install something reasonable two years ago.

Read the whole thing.

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