By Paolo von Schirach
April 8, 2012
WASHINGTON – The Wall Street Journal editorial page wonders why the Obama administration is so timid regarding the ongoing repression in Syria. The WSJ is puzzled by how long it took for Washington to publicly state that president Bashar Assad has to go and is even more surprised that nothing tangible followed this declaration.
No resources for a confrontation with Syria
Simply stated, US circumspection regarding Syria is not an issue of policy judgment regarding the best course of action that would lead to the end of the Alawite regime headed by the Assad family. The US is not reviewing the options. The Obama administration concluded a while ago that it does not have either the military or the financial resources to engage in a direct confrontation with the Syrian regime.
Timid even about inconsequential Libya
Remember that the Pentagon last year was not at all happy to get involved even in Libya, a far weaker country with third rate armed forces. In the end, the US got involved in the French and British-led NATO air campaign, but only a little, “leading from behind”, as you may recall. And even that cameo appearance became politically controversial in Washington. America was already overextended, too many commitments, too many wars –critics from both left and right said.
And you think that now, just months before the elections, Obama wants to confront a far more menacing adversary who has the full backing of Iran, while it gets supplies from Russia? Sure enough, getting rid of Assad would be a major strategic coup, assuming that pro-Western, or at least not anti-Western, forces would take control in Damascus. This would be good for the Syrian people and a huge net loss for Iran and for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
No money left for wars
But getting serious about Syria would mean having the ability, the tools, the staying power –this means the money– and the political resolve to go ahead with an armed confrontation, should other means fail. And the US has none of the above. Above all, the US lacks one critical component: money to fund even an air campaign.
The Federal Government is already deeply in debt. The Pentagon is putting together serious cost cutting measures. This means doing less with less, starting now. This is the stark reality: no money, no wars, unless vital national interests are threatened. And let’s keep in mind that an entrenched dictatorship might consider relinquishing power only if it knew for sure that the US had the power to make it go by force.
Assad gets the picture: Washington will do nothing serious
And Mr. Assad sees what we see. He sees Washington barking a bit, but not too much and showing absolutely no appetite to ratchet up the confrontation. Big about trying to push UN Resolutions, but not much beyond that.
Simple conclusion no doubt reached by Damascus: no danger whatsoever that America will even consider military action in Syria. That said, there is zero incentive to negotiate with Washington in good faith. As for the other players, let’s give them something inconsequential. Let Kofi Annan come by, let’s talk about this and that. But with the confidence of continuing help from Iran, while Russia and China will block anything else the international community may try to concoct, Bashar Assad is pretty safe.
Obama needs scarce federal funds for entitlement programs
America technically is still a superpower. But it is an exhausted superpower with an anemic economy. A country with no money, trillion dollar plus yearly deficits, a gigantic national debt, and thus no stomach to be belligerent.
Finally, this president wants to get re-elected as the friend of the welfare state. Tough to promise that he will keep doling out benefits, if he begins spending the little money there is on another military operation. Starting one right before the elections would not look good with the voters. This would create the “wrong optics”, as they say in the White House.
As I said, Assad is pretty safe.