obama

Obama stuck in the Syrian sand trap

There have been countless attempts to resolve the crisis in Syria up to now. Some countries support a solution with Syrian leader Bashar Assad staying in power and others do not. Russia and Iran want Assad to lead a transition period. The plan currently on the table is for Assad to continue as president, without any tangible authority or influence, for a period of up to six months. Ankara sees this plan as a necessary evil that will eventually end with Assad out of power. During the transition period, the devastated country will be prepared for a post-Assad era and the current Syrian leadership’s future will be decided. Russia also wants the plan to include immunity for Assad for any charges of war crimes, security for the Assad family and a decision on where the family can live afterward.

Moscow’s concerns are mainly centered on its desire not to lose its foothold in the Middle East. It is Iran, however, which has been putting boots on the ground to support the Assad regime, that wants the current leadership to continue as is. As long as its interests are protected, Moscow could not care less about what happens to Assad.

There is a tangible and growing Russian and Iranian military presence in Syria, which is a very strategically placed country to Turkey’s south, Israel’s east and Saudi Arabia’s northwest. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama appears to be more interested in improving his golfing rather than focusing on foreign policy, the Middle East and confronting the growing threat to its most important allies in the region. He is plainly oblivious of the fact that it is Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Iranian leadership that are hitting a hole in one.

To its regional allies, the cavalier and passive conduct of the U.S. administration to the Syrian crisis seems to indicate that it has no idea what to do. Its failure to properly assess where its national interests lie has resulted in a strategy of supporting the Democratic Union Party (PYD) against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) while totally ignoring the crimes perpetrated by the Assad regime against its own people. With its limited regional potential, a leadership of mainly militants loyal to a criminal group recognized by the U.S. as terrorist and a public image limited to the hyped-up reports appearing in the Western media, the PYD is hardly suitable or trustworthy enough to be seen as an ally that will protect U.S. interests.

The EU has belatedly been stirred to action when confronted with the huge refugee influx from Syria. After Russia and Iran, Europeans also have come to the conclusion that something must be done to resolve the continuing Syrian crisis before it poisons the entire region.

While the humanitarian crisis in Syria deepens to the detriment of regional security, Russia and Iran see it as an opportunity to expand their influence and the EU has taken initiative to limit the damage. No one knows what the end game for the U.S. is.

Turkey, which has been there for the Syrian people since the beginning and has paid the highest cost, is in the process of formulating a joint strategy with the EU to address the crisis. If this attempt fails to come to fruition, a strong U.S. leadership is necessary to step up and unite the disparate groups. Unfortunately, the current U.S. administration has failed to capitalize on its immense potential to solve the matter so far. It appears the only hope for a strong and capable U.S. leadership that will strengthen its regional standing lies with the new administration that will emerge after next year’s presidential election.

One fact no one can forget is that any possible solution needs to be a deal that will be deemed acceptable by the Syrian people. Countries that want an end to the violence in Syria, including Turkey, should not only focus on whether the Assad regime should stay or go. Rather than acceding to Russian or Iranian demands, attention should be on the desires and will of the Syrian people, most of whom want nothing more to do with the current regime.

By Daily Sabah