A few days have passed since President Obama's speech on Syria and business seems to be as usual in the war-ravaged country. The UN just published a report that 7 million Syrians have become refugees, many in their own country, many outside. This is one third of the overall population there. YouTube shows terrible videos of the mass and expanding starvation in the country, and the fighting between the rebels and the Syrian regime continues unabated. While claims by the rebels need to be taken with a grain of salt, perhaps with a big spoon, it seems clear that the rebels continue to score local victories, the regime fights back, and the military situation is currently in a state of a draw. President Assad gave an interview to Le Figaro in which he repeated the threat that any attack on Syria will develop into a regional conflict, not so veiled a threat towards Israel. So, on the surface no major change of any kind, and that is not a good omen to the Syrian dictator.
The reason for that is that soon after Obama's speech, the dictator and his stooges in Syria, as well as the Iranians and Hezbollah, tried to spin it as a big victory to the regime, a defeat to the alleged American-Saudi-Turkish-Jordanian coalition, and of course to Israel, which, as the regime claims, erroneously though, is behind it all. Well, this is a struggle in which symbols and images play a major role, and the hope of Assad and company was that what was portrayed as American back-tracking will have a major impact on the resolve of the rebels, and also will weaken that of the regional allies of the U.S. and its partners. That is far from happening. In fact, Assad allies are the ones who show continuing signs of nervousness, almost bordering on hysteria. His minister of national reconciliation [not a joke, there is a position like that...], the Alawite Ali Haydar threatened the U.S. with a preemptive Syrian strike!... really? This is a typical Syrian reaction when they feel vulnerable, rather than a show of genuine self-confidence.
Also some of the threats towards Israel fall within this category. Much more significant are some other developments. The families of the senior echelons of the regime which have escaped did not come back. It was reported, though not confirmed, that the family of General Ali Mamlouk, the head of the general security directorate, which is Assad's main intelligence operation, also moved out of Syria. Apparently, they do not have much confidence in the ability of the regime to launch a preemptive strike against the U.S.... It is also reported that droves of Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen left Syria, and on top of all that, there seems to be no change in the position of the neighboring countries, and so no real negative effect to President Obama's speech.
In fact, as was predicted in this blog, that the American administration understands that the Syrian situation is not ripe yet for the final knock-out to Assad, but in order to come to that point, the rebels need more and better arms and training, which they DO GET from the U.S. In that sense, the Obama policy makes much more sense than that offered by some of his American adversaries. The president keeps the pressure on the Assad regime, hence there is no reversal of what transpired in Syria in the last two weeks, which altogether has weakened the regime and exposed its weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
What does not make any sense is to argue that "Yes, we want Assad out, but we oppose an American strike, because it will not do the trick, and get rid of him instantly, so better we do nothing." Well, doing nothing surely will not weaken him and will definitely be taken as an American disengagement from the Syrian situation altogether. The idea put forward by others, that now is the time to knock Assad out with an immediate decisive American strike, is also erroneous, as there still is not a credible, united rebel political front that can simply take over the country if this decisive blow finally removes Assad from Damascus. Therefore, the Administration policy of choosing the middle of the road approach seems to be the more realistic one. Sometimes the big drama approach is leading to a melodrama...
The problem is that the situation in Syria as described above is abysmal, and so many innocent civilians pay a terrible price. More humanitarian help is urgently needed, but the tragedy is that the two sides fight for survival, and as bad as it is, that is how a war for survival looks.