In Iraq, America went all in and ended up with a failed state. In Syria, America took a hands off approach and ended up with the Islamic State. For all our sakes, the USA will have to evolve an approach to the Middle East that walks a middle line between those of a reckless cowboy and a timid coward.
In Iraq, America went all in and ended up with a failed state. In Syria, America took a hands off approach and ended up with the Islamic State. For all our sakes, the USA will have to evolve an approach to the Middle East that walks a middle line between those of a reckless cowboy and a timid coward.

Dear Adam,

For many months you’ve been gracious enough to endure follow my many blog posts and tweets on anything even remotely related to my home country of Syria. Indeed, you always had kind words about my book on the subject (yes people, there are some strong analogies between Doctor Who and the Syrian conflict), and you recently shared some of your own opinions, in the form of an open letter on your blog, on why Barack Obama waging war on any party in Syria would be a very very bad idea.

You articulated your views very well. As you mentioned, the defining political moment of your life was 2003, when George Bush junior disregarded American popular opinion (and international law), and set about trying to remake Iraq. Eleven years later, and Iraq is an epic mess. You expressed deep skepticism (to put it lightly) that any similar intervention by the USA in Syria would turn out differently.

Now, contrary to what may be widely believed in the West, there are scant few Syrians of any political persuasion who want America to execute an Iraq-style invasion of Syria, to do battle with either Assad or Da’esh (ISIS). And there are almost none who want the USA to stick around post-conflict and “rebuild” Syria the way Bush Jr. tried to rebuild Iraq.

And the reason is quite simple; just like you my friend, almost no one in the Middle East believes America is up to the job. Two wars have sapped America of the means and the will to fight wars in far off regions. Eliminating Da’esh will be one long struggle, and America no longer has the stamina for these kinds of open ended commitments.

So if I seem to be in agreement with Barack Obama on this point, you may rightly ask why is it that a day doesn’t go by when I don’t heap scorn on his policies/abilities/manhood. What is it about him that vexes me more than a so-called Whovian who can’t name a single Doctor before Ecceslton.

Let me be clear about what I and I’m sure a great many Syrians want from the USA at this point; there are fires raging in our country. Those fires need to be put out. We do not want Obama to give us water to douse the flames. We do not even want him to lend us a hose to put out the fires. But we would very much appreciate it if he would be so kind as to take his fucking foot off the hose to allow us to fight the fires that have by now spread to the entire region.

For some peculiar reason, the accepted wisdom in the West seems to be that when it comes to Syria, the West either has to go all in or take a hands off approach. Nothing could be further from the truth; superpowers like the USA always have numerous means at their disposal to implement policy. Relatively few disputes or conflicts in recent history have actually required full scale wars to resolve.

But Obama is living proof that a country can have the best equipped, best trained military and immense resources at its disposal, and yet it counts for nothing if the leadership is unsure, weak and timid when it comes to confronting the challenges posed by its adversaries.

If it is America’s intention to see Assad deposed, then it won’t have to supply a single bullet to make it happen; there are more than enough of its allies in the region willing to give the Syrian rebels the American-made equipment they need to fight the war as soon as American permission is forthcoming.

But but but. I can already hear the many reasons and excuses on why Obama should tread cautiously. What if American arms ended up in the hands of the bad guys? Well, Nazi Germany captured huge stocks of American weapons from the USSR in WW2. In fact, the British left quit alot of their equipment at Dunkirk. It’s not like there has never been a precedent.

Unless Obama is contemplating handing out tactical nukes to the Syrian opposition, nothing that falls in the hands of Da’esh can tilt the balance of power more than the recent capture by that group of division after division of American made Iraqi army equipment.

But what happens if the Syrian regime falls and theres nothing to take its place! Syria will become (even more of) a failed state! Puhlease. The regime will fall when much of its support base peels away from it, and a movement that can convince a substantial part of Bashar Ibn Annesa’s supporters that there is a viable third way, will be able to fill the void created once he is dead or living in Tehran.

But such a third way needs a safe haven to get organized and structured. Da’esh had a safe haven in Raqqa for a year courtesy of the regime. Every crazy Jihadi in the world knows the address to sign up for the caliphate. The Libyan opposition had their own address in Benghazi.

What’s the address of the Syrian opposition? When every town and village can be hit by Scud missiles and barrel bombs, no where is safe to organize. It’s because parts of Aleppo started to see the beginnings of alternative civil institutions, those areas got bombed mercilessly by the regime’s barrel bombs. All the time, Abu Baker Baghdadi polished his Rolex in Raqqa while preparing to take over Mosul.

There is a Yiddish saying; if you dont want to do something, any excuse will do. There will never be a shortage of excuses for Obama to come up with for not acting against the regime. The man wants to coast through the remainder of his term in office, and enjoy the post-presidential bounties of big speaking fees and bigger book advances.

But just because America is disinterested in the Middle East, does not mean that the Middle East will accommodate America and leave it alone. In a fair world, a country’s problems would be confined to that country. Alas, chaos has a way of ignoring borders and spreading.

Chaos cannot be contained, it has to be fought at the source. I’m sorry that the problems of my country have now spread and become region-wide, but now that they have, they need to be tackled.

And when you want to get something done, you can either do it yourself or hire someone else. But this? Obama’s half-assed approach of pinprick bombings while ruling out any substantial commitment of ground troops? It. Isn’t. Working. This isn’t a strategy to get a tough job done, it’s pretending to work while waiting to cash your cheque at the end of the month. Obama’s work ethics on this makes Homer Simpson look like Thomas effing Edison.

I know, it really doesn’t seem fair, does it, an American president getting the blame for crap that started in Syria. Why can’t the Middle East sort out its own problems without eventually dragging in the USA.

Well, as bad luck would have it the only countries willing to support the rebels against the regime all happen to use American made gear. And this president has been anything but passive in making sure the rebels don’t get their hands on substantial amounts of it.

Yes, it is an unfair world where a plague in one continent can spread to others. Where a fire in forest can spread to burn down an entire community. And when wars spread beyond their points of origin and other countries have to rush in to stop things getting worse than they already are.

And it is an especially unfair world when Syrians are expected to give up their aspirations for a society better than the one their forefathers lived in, just because the Iraqis,Lebanese and Egyptians seem to have made a mess of their own dreams.

But at least all the complaining I do also allows me to meet some very interesting and like-minded people who watch the same science-fiction shows as I do. One learns to count one’s blessings at times like these.

(Edit: Ahem. Apparently, it turns out that Adam is…Canadian. Something he actually made clear in his original blog post. Doh).