Among Syrian Exiles, Certainty, And Fear, That Obama Has A Secret Plan

02/12/2014 08:21 am ET | Updated Feb 12, 2014

REYHANLI, Turkey -- The conversation over tea and peanuts in a living room in this bustling border town was about something benign, when one of the Syrian hosts took stock of an American in the room, and raised a hand.

"I do not like Obama," he said, with a studied glare at the foreign visitor. "All of this is his fault." Then he left the room.

The exchange wasn't hostile -- and the man never returned to continue his thought -- but it wasn't unfamiliar either.

These days, it's virtually impossible to travel anywhere in southern Turkey, a region now awash with Syrian refugees of all stripes, as an American, and not hear the complaints about U.S. President Barack Obama and his policies in Syria.

The complaints themselves are nothing new: anti-regime Syrians have been frustrated and angered by the American government's failure, for more than a year, to intervene more forcefully in the fight. Inside the U.S., critics of Obama's Syria policy tend to accuse him of abdication, of a failure to have plan.

But what's emerged among Syrians in Turkey is an accusation, whispered by ranking officials and shouted by everyday residents, that America in fact does have a plan -- and that the ongoing destruction of Syria is a consequence of it.

"I'm sure he has a plan," one member of Syria's political opposition, who has worked with the uprising for two years, said of Obama. "I don’t know what it is, but I can’t believe that this is all just an accident. Syria is too close to Israel for there to not be a plan." He added, "I guess I’m becoming a conspiracy person.”

The supposed secret plans of the White House as perceived by Syrian refugees generally fall along two broad categories of thought.

The first argues that the White House, knowing the dangers the increasing chaos in Syria pose to Israel and the region, has been quietly working to keep any one side from winning -- to "keep control over everything," as one activist put it. The second is that the U.S. has been in cahoots with the Syrian government all along, and has been plotting with it to secure the partition of Syria along sectarian lines.

"America is able to stop all of this, if it wants to," said Fadi, 27, an out of work refugee in Reyhanli. "So clearly it does not."

White House officials, for their part, defend their policy of carefully calibrated action in Syria, saying that more assertive intervention would be unlikely to improve the situation on the ground, and could even make things worse.

On Tuesday, during a press conference with the president of France, Obama acknowledged that he felt "enormous frustration" over the "crumbling" of Syria. But he defended his belief that there is not any obvious "direct action or military action that can be taken that would resolve the problem in Syria."

"I’ve said throughout my presidency that I always reserve the right to exercise military action on behalf of America’s national security interests," he said. "But that has to be deployed wisely. And I think that what we saw with respect to the chemical weapons situation was an example of the judicious, wise use of possible military action."

For some Syrians, who perceive a nefarious scheme as more probable than the absence of one, a judicious policy is exactly what they see -- just one that is not designed for their benefit.

"The world is making an equilibrium between the two sides of this war," one frustrated Free Syrian Army commander said recently, during a discussion about his meetings with American officials to request arms. "The world knows what is happening here, and it cares -- but it doesn't care about Syria. Only its own interests."

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