By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
4 March 2014
Robert Ford has been an ambassador without an embassy ever since the U.S. shut down its mission in Syria after the war erupted. He has left his post and there are no indications that President Barack Obama's administration will change its policy regarding the struggle in Syria. This unwise and inhumane stance is unfortunate.
Ambassador Ford is one of the most knowledgeable diplomats on the level of Syrian and Arab affairs in general. In his recent statements, he was clear in blaming the Bashar al-Assad regime for what's happening. Ford also blamed the regime for the failure of the second Geneva conference. But casting blame is a game of no value at a time when the blood of thousands of innocent civilians is being shed in one of the most hideous wars of our modern history.
In his most recent statement, the outgoing ambassador defended Obama's policy, as expected according to protocol. I don't know his real opinion, but what attracted my attention was his statement that Obama's stance to stay away from the crisis was wise if we look back.
It's easy to review the mistakes of the past three years and say that the American policy in Syria was wrong because the policy of abandoning the crisis is the major reason it has reached this dangerous extent. Today's situation is due to yesterday's policy, which hasn't changed until now.
Extremists Fill the Vacuum
At the beginning, the only force against the regime was those who defected from the army - the Free Syrian Army and the youths who took up arms to respond to the regime's violence against them and against their homes.
The regime's violence, the long duration of the struggle and the entire west's abstention from supporting the Syrians caused a military and an ideological vacuum that attracted extremist groups. The regime's ugly practices made extremists ride this wave, alleging that they defend the unarmed people whom the world let down.
In two years, the extremists succeeded at mobilizing Muslims everywhere - including Europe, central Asia and the Arab world. Syria has currently become the biggest hub for terrorism in the world.
Arms for Rebels Not Bombs Against Assad
President Obama's decision to not send military was justified and an understandable decision. The mistake was in his rejection to support and arm the moderate opposition. Such a step would not have cost the American administration any of its citizens' lives. The region's countries, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would have probably been willing to fund it, similar to what happened during the war to liberate Kuwait in 1991.
If the U.S. had supported the Syrian opposition two years ago, it would have blocked the path of al-Qaeda and other terrorists. The U.N. could have been able to push towards a reasonably peaceful solution. The Assad regime currently rejects compromises because it enjoys unlimited support from Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias who went to Syria because they think the West won't intervene, thus they can save their ally, the Assad regime.
The absence of the U.S. weakened the moderate opposition which includes Christians, Druze, Alawites and moderate Islamists. As a result of Assad's and Hezbollah's crimes, the Syrians are willing to embrace any group as long as it's willing to confront the aggression targeting them.
Syria will not be the only country to pay the price, as the spread of extremism has now been revived. The Americans have not gained anything from their neutrality. I think they've lost a lot, especially considering president Obama used to enjoy an exceptional popularity that no American president had enjoyed before.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.