The Syrian regime has forced all Arabs to choose between two things: accepting the continued murder of the Syrian people with the use of the ugliest methods of killing, and accepting foreign, and specifically American, military intervention, to deter the use of lethal chemical weapons that will, most likely, never shorten the lifespan of the Syrian crisis.
In the same way, groups that support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have also been forced to choose. One option they face involves defending the regime’s actions by going so far as waging war, even if a limited one, to confront the expected military strike as punishment for the use of chemical weapons. The other is to ignore the developments and not respond to United States President Barack Obama’s attempt to recover some of his country’s standing in international politics, after his administration’s retrenchment was exploited by regional and international rivals.
Everyone is now facing a test between two options, neither of which is palatable. This is the case for Obama, who suffered an “insult” at the hands of Assad, who crossed the red line that Obama had set down with regard to the wide-scale use of chemical weapons. Whether or not he goes ahead with a military strike, Obama is in a conundrum, but the same goes for Assad’s allies. This is especially true for Russia and Iran, who face the predicament of whether or not they should respond to a strike, either indirectly or directly.
In such a case, logic dictates that avoiding the repercussions of reactions to the strike, such as a regional confrontation (even if it remains as restricted as a limited strike), requires that negotiations take place among the concerned countries. These talks should set down the limits of such repercussions, whether the agreement comes before, during or after the responses to a military strike.
If Washington's priority is to avoid seeing the military strike turned into a wider confrontation, the reasons for American caution, especially on the economic front, also apply to its rivals. They also have their eyes on their national economies, in terms of the impact of the US economy on the global economy, in the event that a regional confrontation in the wake of Obama’s strike is a prolonged one.
A delay in this strike resulted from the need for domestic cover, i.e. from Congress, and the need for a guarantee in the form of widening the ranks of those countries that support or take part in this military strike. Moreover, this additional period of time will permit, or has already permitted, negotiation over the limits of the responses to an American move.
The delay in Obama’s decision to press forward militarily has revealed many things, and the hour of truth will reveal even more. Already, we have seen US Secretary of State John Kerry say, during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that talk of extremists (takfiris) in the ranks of the opposition being the most influential force is unrealistic. The administration had been using this as a pretext to delay providing support for the opposition and the Free Syrian Army in the form of qualitative weapons, in order to confront the superiority of Assad’s forces, which rely on artillery, aircraft and chemical arms. It was also revealed that the White House had common cause with Moscow when it came to this pretext and used it to see the fighting continue, to exhaust internal and external parties in Syria. This took place before Assad insulted Obama by using chemical weapons. Russia and Iran's defense of their ally in Damascus revealed that they did not mind if Assad went as far as using chemical weapons, as they retained this as a negotiating card with their rival in Washington. This was despite the embarrassment that this caused them when their ally used these prohibited weapons. This means that when Russia and Iran played up the idea of terrorists and “takfiris,” whatever the truth of the matter, it was an excuse to hold on to this card until the time for negotiations arrived.
What will negotiations cover in this period of “extra time”? Moscow refuses to allow the regime to fall through military means, and wants to see a political solution to the Syrian crisis, as it and Washington seek to convene a Geneva 2 conference. If this is the case, then the negotiations will presumably produce a clear Russian commitment to halt completely Assad’s military actions, and send a delegation representing him to discuss arrangements for a transitional phase in Syria during a period of weeks, with Russia enjoying the leading role on this front. This will let America avoid a strike, while Russia will avoid having to make a choice on how to respond to such a development.
Otherwise, the negotiations will take place prior to the strike and cover the scope of this move. This will be a prelude to continuing the talks after the strike takes place, in light of the political and military consequences, and under the ceiling of Geneva 2. This option will keep open the possibility of prolonging the transitional process and seeing it involve a political solution. This is because the limited nature of a strike will create balance between the two parties to the conflict, which will continue, until the pillars of the regime become convinced that they cannot win. And this is something that is unlikely to happen.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.