Syria and the Middle East: An Insider's Look

Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs and lives in Jerusalem. He is also a columnist for various news outlets and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, including Syria during their current civil war. As such, he is probably more of an expert in this region than anything the Obama administration can muster forth. He was given unprecedented access to rebel fighting forces in Syria and witnessed firsthand the battle for Aleppo. As such, he has interviewed and lived among rebel forces in Syria and his analysis of the current situation and what passes as Obama’s policy in this country and region is greatly at odds with what we are hearing from Obama, Kerry, Hagel, McRINO, Graham, and others. His posting covered five broad areas that need to be discussed.

Regarding whether there is a viable moderate element to the rebels, Spyer has come to the conclusion that outside Syria, there is a strong, secular opposition force to the regime of Assad and there may be some within the country itself. However, they are not the ones doing the actual fighting. In fact, he says that one would be hard-pressed to find too many moderates among the actual rebel fighters. That being said, perhaps the problem is the definition of “moderate.” If we are looking for a “moderate” in the sense that we in the West would define that term, then there are none within Syria’s fighting ranks. But, there are “moderates” in the Islamic sense. Spyer assumes that Obama and others are referring to the Supreme Military Command, an umbrella for 20 or so fighting groups in Syria. His observations are that it does have “moderates” in the sense that the Muslim Brotherhood is “moderate.” And in either case, the leaders of that Command cannot be considered “moderate” in the Western sense. This would be at odds with the New York Times O’Bagy column which asserts the contrary view and the view of the Obama administration and the equally duped Republicans, like McCain. Spyer specifically states:

“…the real power in the rebellion lies not in the external structure, but among the commanders of the major fighting groups. These men are Islamists.”

In short, the primary goal is to depose Assad and establish an Islamic state, specifically a Sunni Islamic state.

Second, regarding an American air strike against Syria, Spyer says that originally he was for it. There is a high probability that Assad’s regime is the perpetrator in the poison gas attack on August 21st. He describes the Assad regime as being brutal and ruthless since the 1960s. But, the American response was all wrong in Spyer’s opinion. Instead of turning an airstrike into a political circus by going to Congress, Obama defeated any effect any airstrike would have had. He also says that telegraphing your intentions serve no good. Instead, he offers Israel as an example of how an American response should go: quick and decisive, deliver the message, achieve your objective and get out. Then let it be known that if a chemical attack happens again, you can expect more of the same.

Third, no one can predict the likely outcome of the Syrian civil war. Realizing that the Assad regime is hanging onto power and is ruthless towards those ends, the world was caught off guard, but should not have been. If the rebels win and Assad is eventually deposed, there will likely be a continued civil war among the various rebel fighting factions that will create more grisly visions on television and the Internet. He predicts that in this scenario, a Sunni state dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood will likely prevail. We all know how that turns out given the example of Morsi in Egypt. To further prolong the civil war, the Kurds have taken over a large swath of territory in the northeastern section of Syria and any new government in Damascus will try to reunify the country by attacking this group. In short, the world should be prepared for a long and bloody civil war against Assad followed by another long and bloody civil war followed by yet another long and bloody civil war.

Fourth, regarding the Syrian civil war spilling into neighboring countries, Spyer notes that this has not happened to any great degree other than the refugee problem, especially in Jordan. He specifically states that it would be in America’s best strategic interests to support Jordan and suspects that should the Jordanian king encounter internal political problems because of Syria, they would most likely receive financial and political support from Saudi Arabia, much like they came to the aid of Bahrain in 2011. Also, it is likely that Israel will provide security from behind the scenes. And as for Iran, he notes that it should be a higher priority than Syria. Although our position in the Middle East is weakened because of our failed policy regarding Syria, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture in the region. Iran is the bigger fish in that ocean that is the Middle East.

Fifth, and possibly most important, is the perception of the United States in the Middle East today and its implications on overall foreign policy. Spyer notes that among Middle Eastern peoples, their view of the United States is no different than it was in 2007-2008 at the end of the Bush administration. The difference is that Bush was hated by his enemies, but they also regarded him as a more serious opponent. They note that Bush knew how to reward friends and punish enemies. The opposite view is held of Obama. For example, in Egypt the military under Mubarak respected and relied upon Bush while the Islamic influences in Egypt despised Bush, but like in other countries, took him seriously and had, in a strange way, a respect for him. Our allies in the region, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan believed Bush understood that in order to achieve foreign policy success in the region, patronage and alliances- then sticking with those alliances- was the key to success. Under Obama, Spyer uses the words “loath” and “despise” to describe the Egyptian military’s attitude towards Obama. Additionally, the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist groups do not exactly like him either. In other words, Obama’s mishandling of Egypt and abandoning Mubarak has created two enemies of the United States in Egypt whereas formerly there was only one. The abandonment of Mubarak, the subsequent embrace of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and failure to intervene earlier in Syria before Islamic extremists overtook the ranks are viewed as weakness by our adversaries and friends alike in the Middle East. Our friends are left dismayed; our enemies are “invigorated.”

As for the future, he suggests that whoever occupies the White House needs to articulate a foreign policy in this region with clearly defined goals. They must also realize they will have to pick sides and stick with them. In the “bazaar attitude” that defines the Muslim world, strength- not waffling and shifting- supports friends and instills some respect from your enemies. In other words, be the opposite of Barack Obama.

It is amazing how- in a few short years- one inept person (Barack Obama) could so utterly screw up American foreign policy. Of course, you have to have a foreign policy to begin with, but that is a whole other story. To date, it can best be described as one of criticism of your predecessor and playing the role of being the anti-Bush. It is sad day for America and the world when you can now rank Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy slightly better than that of Barack Obama’s.