10/26/2012 03:09 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2012

The American Elections and the Dangers of the Isolationist Tendency

The tendency towards isolationism and seclusion among the majority of the American people has entrenched the doctrine of Democratic President Barack Obama, based on avoiding an effective role of active leadership, on adopting isolationism as a basis for foreign policy, and on making use of sanctions as a means of containing and isolating regimes that do not accept the language of enticement. Indeed, Barack Obama has interpreted the mood of the American people as one of not wishing for the United States to get involved militarily anywhere and for any reason, and has concluded that what Americans want is an end to the wars waged by former President George W. Bush and the withdrawal of American troops from the hotspots of tension. At first, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held a different opinion, based on resolve and determination in informing the world that the United States is the only superpower, and will remain so, which would require engagement, initiative and leading from the front, not from behind - unlike the Obama doctrine. Yet as voting day has drawn closer, Mitt Romney has turned against his own doctrine and relied on that of Barack Obama. The two men have thus become two sides of the same coin when it comes to foreign policy - at least at the moment during the elections period and until further notice. Nevertheless, this does not negate the fact that there are some important differences in their points of view - differences that were emphasized during their last debate, in particular concerning the issue of Syria. Such differences do not reside in the headlines of the major role to be played, but rather in important details such as the kind of relationship to be had with the Syrian opposition, and how to deal with the challenge represented by Iran. And because this is the phase of intensified infighting for the sake of survival, in a manner similar to what Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is doing inside his country and in neighboring countries like Lebanon, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney will be able sit idly by in the Oval Office in the White House in the name of isolationism.

Indeed, the language of interests will force any US President to follow a different method after the elections, in order to inform those engaged in excesses that American policy in the era of withdrawal and seclusion does not represent a green light to engage in violence and carry out assassinations. At the moment, however, during this transitional period in the United States, fateful battles for survival will become increasingly violent and bloody, and will increasingly exploit the fact that the United States is abstaining from engaging. Barack Obama will be in the eye of the storm of responsibility - if he is reelected - in the case where he would postpone policy-making for the traditional three months until his second term in office. Indeed, the rate of killing in Syria cannot bear respite, after the number of people killed has reached fifty thousand, as is being said, especially as one of the most important instruments for showing strength is precisely American policy.

Last week, the boldness of this display of strength reached its utmost when Brigadier General Wissam Al-Hassan, one of the major pillars of security in Lebanon, was assassinated. General Al-Hassan had exposed several networks working to inflame Lebanon, most prominently at the hands of former Minister Michel Samaha, who transported explosives in his car from Damascus to Beirut under orders from Syria's top military intelligence man, Ali Mamlouk, according to the confessions made by Samaha after his arrest as was reported in the media. The investigation is still ongoing, and there are those in Lebanon and in Syria who had threatened General Al-Hassan with bitter punishment for having the audacity to arrest Samaha, and who are working to secure Michel Samaha's release without having him held to account.

Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman was solemn and statesmanlike when he spoke at Wissam Al-Hassan's funeral, calling on the Lebanese judiciary to make haste in the Samaha case, thereby establishing a link between the arrest and the assassination without preempting the results of the investigation. Indeed, if such a link, between the arrest and the assassination, proves true, then the Syrian regime would have tried to assassinate the Lebanese state and security in Lebanon, in blatant violation of international law. Charges would then have to be brought against it in international forums, and it would have to be held accountable before international justice. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati agreed to the assistance of agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in investigating this crime, and he in turn suggested the possibility of a link between the arrest and the assassination.

The Presidency of the Republic focused on the priority of security and the judicial process. The army thus moved to preserve the peace, anticipating the repercussions of Al-Hassan's assassination. The President of the Republic adopted a stance on the judiciary and the political class by telling the judiciary "do not hesitate... the people are on your side", telling the politicians in and outside of the government "do not provide cover" for the perpetrators, and to citizens "I am on your side... and on the side of sovereignty". The opposition, angered at being violated in such a way, reacted emotionally and made a procedural and political mistake against its own interests. It rushed to hold Mikati responsible for the martyr's death and to demand that he resign, instead of making use of the opportunity of his handing his resignation to the President to insist on changes in the government. It also rushed to mobilize people's emotions and incite against the Prime Minister's headquarters in the Grand Serail. Thus, the opposition, as represented by the March 14 Movement, did not only squander an opportunity, but also provided the opportunity for reconciliation within the government, which includes Hezbollah and elements loyal to the regime in Damascus.

Of course, the shock of the assassination of Brigadier General Wissam Al-Hassan aroused weariness and disgust at the series of assassinations of opposition leaders and of prominent politicians and journalists from the March 14 Movement. And of course, an outcry of "enough is enough" was inevitable. To be sure, the assumption that it will not resort to arms "out of cowardice" has become attached in particular to the Sunni community in Lebanon. But the issue has gained greater urgency in view of the Sunni majority falling between the hammer of Hezbollah and the anvil of the forces of Sunni extremism that have over the recent period found their way to the Lebanese scene. This is why fear has spread in different parts of Lebanon and in the world's capitals of a civil war erupting that would tear the country apart.

The decision to escalate on the Lebanese scene has come as no surprise. Instead, it is the nature of the implementation that came as a shocking surprise, revealing unparalleled audacity. Everyone was predicting operations to be carried out that would export the Syrian crisis to the Lebanese scene in order to divert the attention and take pressure off the regime in Damascus. From the point of view of some, such audacity will have a backlash on the arrogance and haughtiness of the Syrian regime and of its regional and Lebanese allies, as even Russia and China - the two international poles in the axis that includes them along with Bashar Al-Assad, Hezbollah and Tehran's leaders - will not be able to grant their blessing to the resumption of assassinations in Lebanon and to destabilizing the country and undermining its sovereignty.

The other point of view considers that what is yet to come will be much worse, in this fierce battle for survival - the battle of Damascus for survival, the battle of Tehran for survival, and the battle of Hezbollah for survival. Those who are of this opinion expect one assassination after another to take place, because accountability is excluded or out of reach, and because the need to survive is stronger than the specter of being held to account. This will lead to collapse rather than to an eruption, according to some. Indeed, an eruption would mean wars starting that would threaten the survival of Lebanese parties fighting their own battle for survival. Such parties consider internal collapse to be in their interest, while an eruption would take place at their expense. Such a wager is exposed to being injured and broken because players on the Lebanese scene in proxy wars and survival battles are unable to make decisions unilaterally - regardless of whether some of them possess the greatest military arsenal or consist of a mere handful of a new kind of fighters. The danger resides in maintaining the policy of relying on decay from within, which would lead to the collapse of the regime in Damascus - and that is an American policy par excellence. For one thing, the element of time and prolongation is of service to the entire spectrum of armed extremism - in the government and in the opposition - which portends that the whole country, rather than the regime, may slip into decay. This is in addition to the fact that a prolonged conflict also serves the thinking of the regime in Damascus, which is based on provoking incidents in neighboring countries so as for the collapse of the regime in Damascus, if it must take place, to be a collective one.

This regime has a rich history beyond its borders. It is this regime that created a rift and bitter and armed division between the Palestinians by blatantly exploiting the Palestinian cause, and it is the one that is today engaged in contacts with Israel so that it may save it. It is also the one that exported terrorism to Iraq, after having participated in a war that eliminated Iraq from the strategic and military equation in the Middle East. This regime is the one that drove Iran into the Arab bosom like a dagger tearing the Arabs apart, while the relationship between Iran and Israel always remained one of truce, regardless of any escalation that would take place in proxy wars, specifically through Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is the regime that took Lebanon hostage and used it as a bargaining chip and as the flank of its strategic depth, then butchered it when it dared to refuse to have its constitution dictated. And it is the regime which today is trying to assassinate the Lebanese state, its security and its judiciary in order to implicate Lebanon and drag it into proxy wars. Regional and international reactions to the practices of this regime and of its allies, great and small, have been nearly apologetic, regardless of statements and threats. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus - with the exception of Oman - but they have not summoned Russia and China's ambassadors, nor recalled their ambassadors in Moscow and Beijing, in order to truly show their discontent with the policies followed by Russia and China in alliance with Tehran and Damascus.

The Obama Administration failed to reach an understanding with Russia and China, or to seriously inform them of its positions on the Syrian issue. It has thus contributed to the "good luck" enjoyed by Bashar Al-Assad, who is drowning in Tehran, Moscow and Beijing's insistence on keeping him in power, while drowning the country in a bloodbath and plans for partitioning it through civil wars. The American presidential elections had a role to play in international leaderships hiding behind their own finger to evade the challenges facing them in Syria. Today, however, and in two weeks, it would be preferable for whoever wins the elections to be prepared for resolve and determination, in a clear message not limited to what Obama said about a policy of unifying the opposition in Syria instead of arming it. Here, Mitt Romney is right to adopt a policy of arming the opposition and supporting Turkey, because prolonging the crisis will not only be devastating for the Syrian people, but will also come at a cost later for the American people, when extremism returns to knock at their door seeking revenge.

It would be best and wisest for the elected or reelected US President to adopt serious and clear stances, instead of pursuing isolationism. No one expects the Americans to send their troops to take part in this battle, but rather to reassess what is in the interest of the United States and of the ethical and effective leadership of the world's sole superpower.