Middle East and North Africa Social Policy

Written by Rana Jawad, University of Bath Institute for Policy Research

Topic: Obama

Obama's short respite?

📥  Chemical weapons, Hizbullah, Islam, Middle East and North Africa, Military action, Obama, Russian proposal, Syria

Obama's short respite?

Dr Rana Jawad, MENA Network Co-ordinator for the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research’s view on BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24043751

Syria is not Afghanistan or Iraq or Lebanon. Any military attack on Syria will mean that Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah are more than likely to rally around their ally. A stray rocket into Israel, and all hell will break loose. The risks to the region of the Middle East and to the West more generally are tremendous. It is no wonder that President Obama and political leaders in Western Europe and North America have to take seriously any attempt at diffusing the tensions in the Middle East and in particular, military action in Syria. Claims that the international credibility of the UK or the USA have been undermined as a result of the reluctance of leading politicians to take action in Syria are misplaced. If anything, this is one occasion when public opinion in these countries may be seen to have been vindicated with citizens feeling that finding solutions to the economic recession is more of a priority and that international intervention in the Middle East is an endeavour mired in failure and great loss of human life.

But the stakes are also ever higher in Syria because neither side of the civil war is promising enough to bring about a fresh start to political life in this country. On the one hand, the Syrian regime is a dictatorship made up of the Alouite religious minority, and the opposition is made up of an array of factions whose numbers are increasingly swelling with Islamic hardliners who see the fight in Syria as a war in apocalyptic terms. This does not bode well for other religious groups in Syria or its neighbouring countries. And it certainly does not bode well for Western countries against future scenarios similar to 9/11.

Will the Russian plan lead to a final resolution of this issue? It is a short–term step in the direction of no foreign military action for the immediate future - but the ensuing political wrangling, the logistics of gathering the chemical weapons and monitoring their destruction by UN inspectors will be far from simple. Bashar Al Assad has every interest in seeing this proposal through, but he will not be dictated to on the terms of this deal, as for example was suggested by a French Minister yesterday. Indeed, will this Russian deal mean that killing by all other means goes on as normal in Syria? And what if chemical weapons are acquired by other means and other groups? We will be back to square one.

Which leads back to the central issue of Obama’s red line: surely, the issue is about regime change and stopping the civil war in the first place. The red line of chemical weapons seems arbitrary and dehumanising of the lives already lost in Syria.  Chemical weapons have been used before in this region both in the Syrian civil war and in other wars - but no red lines were drawn then. President Obama is in a tough position and this Russian proposal will give him short respite.