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Grasping at straws
A general view of damage in the Umayyad mosque of Old Aleppo, December 15, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat
A general view of damage in the Umayyad mosque of Old Aleppo, December 15, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat
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The Obama administration’s “policy” on the Syrian crisis has been receiving considerable scrutiny of late, and perhaps special funding should be set aside to aid analysts in their efforts to actually discover whether any kind of policy exists to begin with.

Prominent figures in both France and Saudi Arabia sounded warning bells over the weekend about the alarming drop in fortunes of the mainstream military and civilian opposition, as the proposed Geneva II peace conference draws closer.

The recent decision by Washington and London to stop non-lethal aid to the rebel Free Syrian Army, in the wake of the seizure of its facilities by Islamist militias, is the latest body blow to the ranks of the opposition.

According to some reports, the U.S. now finds itself obliged to begin engaging in dialogue with the Islamist groups that are not affiliated with Al-Qaeda to see if anything can be salvaged. While this can be defended as a pragmatic policy, it also represents a resounding failure for the White House and its allies, who spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to drum up support for the moderate segment of the opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Meanwhile, the Syrian regime appears to be quite comfortable as it continues its policies of starvation and blockade against civilian areas, with the U.S. unable or unwilling to put its foot down and facilitate access to desperately needed aid and assistance.

The regime has persistently used the rhetoric of “fighting terror” in a bid to discredit anyone who wants to see a new political order in Syria, and the lack of robust American support for the mainstream FSA and other groups has finally given Assad the prize he has been waiting for – this is despite the reports that the regime has been covertly aiding the extremist jihadists and allowing them to become influential on Syrian soil.

The excuse that “things are too complicated” in Syria might reassure people inside the Washington beltway, but an administration that claims it has the resources to focus on Asia – which has a few billion people, several nuclear states and a host of thorny issues – should at least generate and adhere to a workable policy in Syria.

The tactic of playing up the threat posed by Al-Qaeda, allowing the regime to reap economic benefits while denying aid to desperate neighborhoods, towns and villages, and squeezing the mainstream military and civilian opposition at every turn truly represents a coherent, logical plan of action for a country like Russia – the unfortunate part, however, is that this policy is being pursued by the Obama administration.

The Assad regime’s media has been trumpeting its progress politically and militarily in the run-up to Geneva in a bid to boost its negotiating power. It now appears the White House believes – for some strange reason – that this effort needs all of the help it can get.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 16, 2013, on page 7.
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