By Ameen Izzadeen
If one were to go by the tone of the Western news media coverage of Syria, the moves aimed at regime change appear to have been put on a fast track.
The coverage of Syria in the Western media such as CNN makes a discerning reader or a viewer to question whether the media groups are in collusion with political leaders to whip up public support for a military invasion without United Nations approval.
Syria is fast becoming a second Libya. The sooner Assad leaves Damascus and finds refuge in a friendly country such as Iran, the better it is.
However, Assad still believes the West could do little because he has the support of Russia, China and Iran. The two big powers — Russia and China — recently vetoed a UN Security Council resolution against Syria and have vowed to do the same in the future while Iran has sent money, munitions and, some reports say, men to prop up the Assad regime. Reports this week said two Iranian ships in a show of support for Assad docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia maintains a naval base capable of accommodating nuclear-armed warships and its Black Sea Fleet.
Assad’s assumption that Russia, China and Iran would protect his regime may be wrong. With the media coverage in the West aimed at drumming up support for some kind of military action against the Syrian regime, a Bosnia-like international intervention is looming large. Wednesday’s deaths of journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik only drew more public attention to the Syrian crisis, especially the massacre that is taking place in the Syrian city of Homs where the resistance to the Assad regime is the strongest.
Reacting to the journalists’ deaths, the United States said it was “another example of the shameless brutality” of the regime while French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “That’s enough… The regime must go”.
The loud cry from international humanitarian agencies and human rights groups for military intervention became louder with the journalists’ deaths.
A day before the journalists’ deaths, the White House and the State Department said that if the international community could not get Assad to yield to the pressure, the US might have to consider “additional measures’.’
Although they did not elaborate on what they meant by “additional measures”, this could mean options ranging from arming the opposition and covert operations similar to those that took place in Libya to direct military intervention with or without UN approval.
Some analysts believe the West may back an Arab military initiative. Reports indicate that Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are training as many as 10,000 Libyan Islamists and jihadists from other countries with the aim of sending them to Syria to fight Assad’s forces.
Today top officials from 70 countries will gather in Tunisia, the birth place of the Arab Spring, for an international conference on Syria. They are expected to endorse the call for humanitarian intervention in keeping with the principle of Right to Protect — R2P.
Giving a boost to moves in this direction are the frontline US Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. They are in support of some kind of military action against Syria and question President Barack Obama’s soft approach.
Obama is wary of launching a war in an election year. He is willing to consider all options but war to oust Assad.
He has dissuaded Israel from attacking Iran and prevented the outbreak of a devastating war in the Middle East. Following the American debacle in Iraq and the quagmire in Afghanistan, an increasing number of Americans are wary of direct military intervention. They are wary because the more than 1.3 trillion US dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the deaths of some 7,000 US troops in the two theatres have only pushed the US into a disadvantageous position. Iraq today is pro-Iran and openly supports the Assad regime, while in Afghanistan the return of the Taliban to power is increasingly becoming a reality with every passing day.
Yet, a Libya-like intervention — where there are officially no US or NATO boots on the ground, but in reality there are — is not out of the question yet.
With the media in the United States emphasising the humanitarian crisis in Homs, inaction by the Obama administration could cost him a heavy political price in this election year. Therefore, it is likely that the Obama regime will initially back moves to arm the Syrian opposition groups and covert operations sponsored by Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. If Assad survives these measures, the situation may change only after the US presidential election in November. After the presidential polls, with or without UN approval, the US or NATO may attack Syria in a move that parallels the US actions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. NATO justified its Yugoslav intervention saying it was aimed at stopping a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
The Serb programme of ethnic cleansing was “an evil in and of itself” which made intervention necessary, the NATO said.
But there are two more factors that make the US hesitate: First, the uncertainty over the post-Assad period. Although it is likely that the Sunni-dominated post-Assad regime will not be pro-Iran, it will be a tough foe of Israel. Assad who derives his support largely from the country’s Alawites, who constitute 12 per cent of the population, pays lip service to the Palestinian cause. But a Sunni regime in post-Assad Syria is likely to be dominated by Islamists who are ardent opponents of Israel and if necessary they won’t hesitate to oppose the US, notwithstanding the support they got during the revolution.
Already, the regime the Americans helped bring to power in Libya is dominated by Islamists who are sympathetic to the al-Qaeda cause. The dilemma for the US is that the continuation of the Assad regime only strengthens the position of Iran, which is the biggest military power in the Middle East after Israel.
The second factor is Russia. Will Russia stand aside and watch Syria become another US satellite nation. Would Russia like to lose the Tartus naval base in Syria?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)