U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are riding a tandem bicycle and backpedaling together on Syria after their talks this week at the White House.
At Thursday’s news conference with Erdogan, the president, responding to a question about how he would react to conclusive evidence Syrian troops had crossed a “red line” and used chemical weapons, portrayed the issue as a challenge for world powers collectively, rather than his administration alone.
Turkey, Obama said, “is going to play an important role as we bring representatives of the regime and opposition together in the coming weeks.”
Erdogan was kind enough to oblige without delay.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington a day after discussing Syria with Obama, Erdogan said it would be up to the UN Security Council to decide whether to establish a no-fly zone inside Syria.
He said he also backed a planned international conference on Syria agreed by Washington and Moscow.
"With respect to a no-fly zone... it is not a decision that could be taken between the United States and Turkey. It is something that would have to come through the UN Security Council," Erdogan said.
"We are in the process of putting together a conference in Geneva... If that process decides on such a zone, as Turkey, we would also do whatever is necessary," he said.
During his talks at the White House, Erdogan had been expected to push Obama, at least in private, for more assertive action on Syria.
Listing actions he would take, Obama said he would increase pressure on the Syrian regime with diplomatic efforts and humanitarian aid, but notably did not include any military steps.
Israel is all too happy with the pair’s about-face.
A weakened Bashar al-Assad is preferable for Syria and the whole region, to a takeover by rebel forces increasingly ruled by Muslim extremists, Israeli officials said overnight.
“Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there,” a senior Israeli intelligence officer told The Times of London.
On Friday, Israel’s senior Defense Ministry official Maj.-Gen. (Res) Amos Gilad said in an interview with Israel Radio Assad is in total control of his country’s weapons systems and is acting sensibly with regard to Israel, seeking to calm escalating tensions between Jerusalem and Damascus following Israeli airstrikes earlier this month.
According to The Times of Israel English-language daily, Gilad stressed Israel is not striving to topple Assad’s regime, and recent IAF attacks on Iranian weapons shipments in Syria en route to Hezbollah are motivated by a desire and an obligation to defend Israel.
Brig.-Gen. Tamir Hyman, commander of the IDF division responsible for the Israeli-Syrian border on the Golan Heights, said Assad’s army “has not fallen apart” despite the two years of fighting, and its command structure was intact, adding Israel had “no interest” in one side prevailing over the other in the war.
In his column for the Beirut independent daily al-Nahar, Lebanese political analyst Rajeh el-Khoury today describes Obama as a Syria deserter.
According to Khoury:
The gist of Erdogan’s visit to Washington and his talks with Obama is that the United States won’t go it alone on Syria. Since other nations refuse to act except on the heels of America, the tragic crisis will remain widely open under the aegis of Russian intervention and Iranian meddling.
This means the race between warfare and efforts to convene Geneva-2 will drag on longer than many expect in view of the deep schism between an opposition that refuses to sit at the table with a “murderous” regime and a regime unwilling to negotiate with its “terrorist” opponents.
It’s not enough for Obama to say, “We're going to keep working for a Syria that is free from Assad's tyranny; that is intact and inclusive of all ethnic and religious groups; and that’s a source of stability, not extremism...”
The White House has been parroting this for over two years.
But the Obama Administration’s failure to translate the words into action left the field wide open for the Russians to buy time for the regime’s military and for the Iranians and Hezbollah to join the fray, leading the tragedy to where it is now.
In his new approach, Obama has explicitly surrendered American’s leadership role and disavowed all his previous positions and erased the “red lines” he drew on the use of chemical weapons.
“This is an international problem. It is very much my hope to continue to work with all the various parties involved, to find a solution that brings peace to Syria, stabilizes the region, stabilizes those chemical weapons," Obama said at his joint news conference with Erdogan.
"But it's not going to be something that the United States does by itself. I don't think anybody in the region would think that U.S. unilateral actions would bring about a better outcome in Syria," he added.
Obama’s words are not only an avowed relinquishment of America’s role. They give the Russia- and Iran-backed Assad regime the green light to keep up its military campaign and destroy Syria on the Syrians’ heads.
Isn’t Obama gibbering when he says with Erdogan by his side, “We’re going to keep increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and working with the Syrian opposition”?
“We both agree that Assad needs to go,” he added -- after 90,000 deaths?
Hearing such verbiage, you can construe the American president’s Syria policy has simply gone haywire.