John Kampfner writes: As Turkey threatens reprisals for bombings that have left up to 50 dead, Syria’s war is already sucking in the wider Middle East. But the one country on which all sides would previously rely for leadership is paralysed with indecision.
The most striking aspect of the Syrian imbroglio, as I have discovered on a visit to neighbouring Lebanon, is that this may be the first conflict of the post-superpower era. The United States does not know what it wants. And even if it did, it seems fearful to use the means at its disposal to engineer it.
A year ago, when I was last in Beirut, people said Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, had, perhaps, three months to hang on; now he looks much more entrenched. Militarily, the regime has consolidated its precarious hold on Damascus and other key cities. Rebel forces are increasingly desperate and disparate – and fears are growing that the al-Qaida-inspired al-Nusra Front is the only organised element. Some diplomats say that the Assad regime deliberately stokes these fears, but admit that they add to a sense that Syria is a lose-lose for everyone involved.
In his re-election inaugural address in January, President Obama insisted that a decade of war was coming to an end. Afghanistan and, particularly, Iraq have set back the cause of humanitarian intervention for at least a generation. Libya was seen as a modest operation, with modest success, but even that has been undermined by the murder in Tripoli by jihadists of the US ambassador to Libya, which has been ruthlessly and opportunistically taken up by the American right.
For Obama, therefore, the option of cutting his losses and keeping his distance from Syria has proved attractive. The problem is that his government will not admit this to be strategy, providing false hope to the self-proclaimed moderate opposition and its Sunni supporters in Turkey, Qatar and the region. [Continue reading…]