In the pantheon of despotic leaders, it is easily understood that both Libya’s Gaddafi and Syria’s Assad were equal in the tyrannical curmudgeon category. So, then it begs the question why the United States was so willing to bring down the Gaddafi regime, and yet push the Syrian conflict away as though it was a plagued leper?
When the Obama Administration supported the rise of the Arab Spring, it was ostentatiously a support for the rise of democratic regimes in North Africa. If it was truly a support for the rise of democratic governments, then why not the support for Yemen as they had their revolutions also? This opens the door for wide speculation. Let’s put to bed one major inherent falsehood.
Oil. If supporting revolution for oil was really the root of Obama’s outward support, then his administration was misinformed. Though unfathomably cruel, to the point that his own immediate family was trying to distance themselves from him, the Gaddafi family was a great deal more stable than the uncertain future of Libya. In fact, since Libya handed over the Lockerbie bomber to England (and prior), most western oil companies were able to operate in Libya with little to no interference from the Gaddafi government.
So, why then offer aid to an unstable, and mostly unknown, rebellion against Gaddafi, and yet leave hundreds of thousands to die in Syria?
Some reasons bantered about include: Geopolitics, military strength/Allies, local factions, and war fatigue. All but one of these makes sense when looking inward toward U.S. politics. Let’s look at the options in more detail.
1. Geopolitics: As State Farm says, “Like a good neighbor.” In the case of Libya, the choice to send military aid was an easy one–Egypt and Tunisia were already leading the way in the Arab Spring rebellions, so what was there to lose? Syria, on the other hand, borders Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and Jordan. The proponents of geopolitics as the reason we are not involved (or even seeing the events unfolding on television right now) is because the United States does not want to be involved in a volatile Middle East crisis right now. This does not hold water in the fact that the Obama Administration is involved with relations between Iran and Israel (two players in the Syrian game also). What they are really saying is that Obama is playing careful right now…
2. Military Strength/Allies: Weapons of Mass Destruction. Where have we heard that phrase before? It becomes a tricky play when deciding to invade a foreign, sovereign nation. We could call it a humanitarian effort, but we aren’t or we’d be there yesterday. We could call it an attempt to rid a nation of using WMDs against their people. Yes. Syria DOES have bio- and chemical-weapons. They also have a darn strong military. However, so did Gaddafi. His chemical weapons cache was found after his death; a cache that he was supposed to have dismantled in 2003. What Gaddafi did not have, though, is a stable military. He preferred to keep his army fragmented in order to keep a powerful military coup from happening. Either way, WMDs can’t be the reason either. The last thing the President needs in an election year is a war over WMDs.
So then, where does that leave the Allies segment?
Gaddafi was summarily dismissed by even the Arab League. He was a lone wolf, in a wolf kill zone. Assad? He’s got the support of Tehran, and, in turn, Hezbollah and Hamas. It could also be assumed with Tel Aviv’s thorny relationship with Iran at this moment, that Netanyahu would prefer the stable, however bloody, Assad regime than the unknown squabbling for power on his back door.
3. Local Factions: One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the EU, China, Russia, and the United States in dealing with Syria’s uprising is who do we work with. Even the various factions couldn’t tell anyone that answer. In part, the reason the West is avoiding Syria is because Syria cannot tell us who to talk with. If the United States did commit troops to the crisis, would we also be responsible for the clean up, and, who do we pick to rebuild the mess?
4. War Fatigue: Ultimately, the reason that the United States is not dealing with, or even acknowledging the crisis (as seen with the dearth of coverage on the major networks), Syria is because it is an election year. Simply put. Around sixty percent of Americans feel the effort in Afghanistan is a waste, and nearly fifty-five percent want the troops pulled out now. Looking at the geopolitical, military strength/allies, and local factions arguments, what is not being discussed, but hidden in the messages, is that it would be political suicide for any politician to argue for soldiers in Syria. WMD comments would fly from the party machinery. The majority of Americans would vote against the candidate that said we should be in Syria simply because they are tired of Afghanistan. Because of Assad’s military strength, it would be a prolonged war or it would be a television nightmare with civilian casualty numbers soaring higher than Nielsen ratings for the Super Bowl.
Mitt Romney has said that he would be willing to commit troops to Syria if he were elected in order “to prevent the spread of chemical weapons”. Obama, on the other hand, has been more elusive on his Syrian stance and has called out Romney for “suggesting that we start another war.” It is hard to believe that the Obama Administration would see Gaddafi a logical target and ignore Assad and Syria. As it stands, there are reports that the Administration is working via the CIA to funnel weapons through Turkey and Saudi Arabia to the Syrian rebels. As it is, we are war-weary and neither candidate wants to get tied to a strong Syrian policy this close to the election.
Unfortunately for the people fighting for their lives each day on the bloodied streets of Aleppo, America will continue to ignore their crisis for another six weeks, at the least. Maybe then, something will happen; most likely, Syrians will be on their own until after the inauguration, and even then the newly elected President will hope that the crisis in Syria resolves itself.