The Assad Doctrine vs. the Obama Doctrine

Last week saw two conflicting doctrines emerge: The first with President Barack Obama's speech concerning the role of his country in the Arab popular uprising demanding change, and the second with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's speech concerning the role of the Syrian regime vis-à-vis the popular uprising demanding reform in Syria. While the Obama doctrine is currently the focal point of a debate taking place among its proponents, opponents and critics -- on both sides of the political spectrum -- the Assad doctrine reveals two possibilities, albeit which both have a single outcome: that the space afforded for the debate is of a military and security nature, as Assad came to the conclusion that the demonstrations held by the Syrian people, are part of a conspiracy. For him, 'preventing strife is a national, moral and religious duty, and all those who contribute to preventing it, but fail to do so, are part thereof.' The possibilities revealed, meanwhile, are either that the powers that be, whether they are economic in nature or are part of the intelligence community and the military, have opposed any move towards reforms and forced Assad to chose between postponing them or
repressing the protests; or that Assad himself has chosen to pursue the 'doctrine' of triumphalism, by purporting that 'crises are positive situations, if we manage to control them and emerge from them victorious.'

Barack Obama too seeks victory, but not for the regime, as Assad does. Rather, he seeks the success of the principle of 'humanitarian intervention,' on the basis of the 'moral' duty towards an oppressed people, as is the case in Libya.

Obama hence defended U.S. military action in Libya, on the eve of NATO's assumption of the command of operations in the North African nation, whilst making clear that the United States does not want to be, and will not be, the world's policeman.

But then a few hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deliberately stated that no U.S. military intervention in Syria will take place, and that her country will not handle events in Syria in the same manner it dealt with those in Libya.

This statement has perhaps helped the Syrian leadership make up its mind, in terms of choosing to escalate, show obstinacy and settle matters at the security level, trusting that it enjoys special status with the U.S. administration. Perhaps Damascus has interpreted Clinton's statements as meaning that it is above being held to account, which may explain why the regime chose to threaten the protesters and all those who are part of the 'conspiracy.' Bashar al-Assad made sure to omit any mention in his speech that the state of emergency could be lifted, and did not make any reference to the freedom of the press and establishing a multi-party system.

Following the address, the U.S. administration said that they expect the Syrian people 'were going to be disappointed' by the Assad Doctrine speech, and called for 'tangible steps' towards reform and dialogue between the government and its citizens.

Incidentally, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is a man who always defended the Syrian president and his wife. He is one of those who are convinced that American interests require accommodating Assad as well as the roles Syria plays beyond its borders, for instance in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. The recent events in Syria will most certainly leave Kerry in an awkward position, and may force him to reconsider his stances, especially when Senator John McCain from the Republican Party and independent Senator Joe Lieberman, have both requested support for the Syrian opposition from the U.S. president.

In their joint statement on Wednesday, the two men, who toured the Middle East together a few weeks ago, said that "a new Syria strategy is now needed - one that aligns the United States with the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Syrian people for their future", adding "we also urge the administration to work with members of the international community to make clear to President Assad that if he continues on the path of repression and violence, it will carry serious consequences."

In truth, the approach pursued by the U.S. administration on Libya at the international level, stems from the stances adopted by the Arab League, at the initiative of GCC countries. But according to those who are against replicating the Libyan intervention model in Syria, neither the GCC nor the Arab League is likely to adopt stances on Bashar al-Assad's regime that are similar to theirs on Muammar Gaddafi's regime. For this reason, they maintain, the Obama administration will not follow the same path [in Syria], in the presence of Arab opposition or reservations. This is not to mention that there are signs of Russian and Chinese opposition, within the Security Council, to repeating the Libyan intervention model elsewhere in the Arab world. In other words, no one wants multinational intervention in Syria.

Nevertheless, this predicament is everyone's predicament, no matter how much they try to avoid getting involved. The Syrian people, like the Libyan people, have surprised the whole world with their ability to stand up to the security apparatus in their respective countries. Just as there was a belief that the Libyan people were oppressed to such an extent that they became completely subdued, and unable to lift their heads from under the heavy burden of fear, such was the impression concerning the Syrian people; but then came the surprise.

It was not only the Syrian people's uprising to demand reform, freedom and the right to self-determination and political participation that was surprising. The Syrian leadership's refusal to learn from the lessons of others was also shocking, as it seems to believe it can win the battle that the others have lost, in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and also Yemen.

The Syrian leadership seems to believe that it is indispensable to the Obama administration, in light of its cooperation with the latter in Iraq, Iran and on many other issues. But the Obama administration, whether deliberately or inadvertently, has set itself up as a partner for the peoples that aspire to change and reform. Of course, it has done so after much hesitation, but this tenet was nonetheless clearly declared in the speech delivered by the American president that has set out what is known today as the Obama Doctrine, a doctrine of international, regional and local partnerships, and a partnership with peoples far and wide.

By the same token, Hillary Clinton's statements on Syria did not help the cause of the protesters, and it sounded as if she were vowing not to support them. Nonetheless, they persevered, and now, as the U.S. administration expressed 'disappointment' at the Assad Doctrine speech, it has effectively placed itself in a position where it is required to either comply with the McCain-Lieberman declaration, or explain why it has failed to act on the Syrian issue.

The Obama administration is not only perceived as discouraging of protesters -- as in the Syrian case -- but also of misleading the freedom fighters, as regards the revolutionaries in Libya, especially if it continues to have second thoughts about arming them. It is too late to question the issue of whether to arm them or not, when the Libyan rebels are fighting a war against Muammar Gaddafi's military machine, based on international promises (specifically American and European promises), and with the participation of GCC countries and Turkey. It is unacceptable today to continue to discuss at length, whether there is a need or a valid reason for arming the rebels, in light of the critical battle currently taking place. In other words, any kind of backtracking now, would mean offering the revolutionaries on a silver platter to Muammar Gaddafi.

However, this does not mean that everything should be offered on a golden platter to the revolutionaries and the opposition in Libya either. Instead, the opposite is needed. In truth, closely examining who these revolutionaries are and what they want is not sufficient. What is required is to help them, or to insist that they come up with ideas for an exit strategy for Muammar Gaddafi's regime. But if the way to convince them of this is to deny them armaments, this would represent a tremendous risk for both NATO and the revolutionaries, and so this issue must be addressed rather quickly.

Similarly, regarding Yemen, excusing opposition leaders from being held to account and from taking fateful decisions will not help implement an exit strategy or bring about the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This is not the time for revenge. It is the time for change and reform, not the time for seizing power through the same usual means and through vengeance.

It is worth noting here that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been exerting efforts with the Syrian leadership, efforts that seem to have left him angry and unable to understand Syrian resistance to his suggestions for the leadership to engage in reform. Top political circles have reported that he was frustrated by the behavior of the Syrian regime, especially as Turkey holds irrefutable evidence of this regime's involvement in facilitating the transport of massive arms shipments from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Indeed, well-informed sources have revealed that one of the two aircrafts Turkey forced to land recently were carrying weapons and equipment "sufficient for an entire army," as Erdoğan told senior officials in the Arab region.

In a similar vein, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has urged the Syrian leadership and other Arab leaders to adopt change or face defeat. In response to a question about Syrian accusations of "foreign elements" being responsible for the anti-government protests that have been taking place over the past two weeks, he said that there was no "evidence" for this, and that the young Arab generation is seeking more dignity, economic prosperity and democracy. He said that wise rulers in the region should "lead this process rather than try to prevent [it]", adding that "those who are trying to do so will face more difficulties, as is the case in Libya."