Obama’s reluctance to act against Assad in Syria, emboldened Putin to act against Ukraine
By Osama Abukatta
While the West is scrambling to try to find a solution to the Russian military and diplomatic offensive in Crimea and Ukraine, it is worth noting that the genesis of the Russian resurgence against Ukraine, was in part fueled by American failure to act swiftly in Syria to end its civil war. The failure of American and Western policy in Syria has sent the wrong message to the Russians, and to some extent the Chinese that the US and Western foreign policy is wobbly and indecisive.
On the psychological level, and even in practical levels, however , the U.S has already missed a golden opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the majority of the people in the Middle East and reinforce the perception that the US is a strong ally and the leader of the free world.
A rare opportunity to mend the U.S relations with the people of the Middle East was wasted by the Obama administration’s continuous hesitation to act decisively on the Syrian crisis. While one may understand the reasons behind the White House’s hesitation to support the Syrian opposition effectively, it is almost impossible to overlook its shortcomings in defending the US strategic interests in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, the Russians shrewdly recognized that the Syrian crisis provided an opening for them to reverse the Arab world’s perception that an alliance with Russia is akin to betting on a loosing horse.
This perception that was built on lessons learned from historic Russian support for Arab causes in the region in the past fifty years especially the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Obama administration failures in the Syrian civil war and in the Palestinian-Israeli peace negations made the Russians look like a better ally for some in the Arab World. The recent visit by the Egyptian new military leaders to Russia and the news of a major Saudi-financed arms deal between and Russia and Egypt shows that the US is losing grounds even among its traditional allies.
Unfortunately, average Americans don’t recognize that the U.S -in theory and practice- was never a third party in the Middle East. It was rather front and center in all of the Middle East conflicts whether in peace or war. Moreover, they don’t comprehend how the distant crisis may have any influence on the long-run on their daily life, and thus they are not as engaged in the debate on Syria as the Russians and other nations.
Putin, the symbol of a Russian resurgence, managed to capitalize domestically and internationally on his steadfastness in the face of all other G8 leaders’ pressure to abandon the backing of Al-Assad or at least to halt its arming of the Syrian regime. And thus he emerged as the only beneficiary of this lingering bloody conflict which produced the worst humanitarian crisis in the twenty-first century. So, the Russian message to the world, especially in the Arab World, Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics, is loud and clear: we are back in the game and we will defend our security and strategic interests even if we have to pay a heavy price such as going to war for it.
Osama Abukatta is a political analyst based in Europe .
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