After all the heightened drama,war noises, and threatening talk emanating for the last several weeks from Washington of mounting punitive attacks on Syria for Damascus’ alleged úse of chemical weapons (CWs), President Obama seems all set to accept a so-called compromise engineered by Moscow in cahoots with Bashar al-Assad whereby the Syrian govt will surrender its stock of CWs. This is about as plain a face-saving ruse as one can invent when finding oneself, as Obama did, in an impossible political situation. The American people by a decisive majority (59%) have said they do not accept even proven CW-use as provocation for war against Syria. Following the public’s mood, the White House discovered that the US Congress too had stiffened in opposition, and not all the political canvassing and badgering has moved both these sets of opinions an iota. Obama may have saved his face but he is, as a consequence, much reduced. Indeed, many American political pundits have even ventured that this political defeat means the beginning of the phase of Obama’s tenure in office as a lame duck president. And he still has another four years to go!
The fact is the success in hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden apparently filled the US President elected the first time around on an anti-war plank with visions of himself as a great commander-in-chief who relies on instinct to achieve military glory. Except, the American people have had enough of wars on the thinnest of pretexts and will not anymore countenance deployment of the US military to swat flies that turn out to be a nest of gnats. The failures in fighting the al-Qaida-Taliban in Afghanistan and assorted sunni and shia outfits in Iraq has, perhaps, cured the US of believing that there are any more such things as “small wars”. “Small wars” in the Philippines and in the Caribbean in early 20th Century made the reputations of presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt. In initiating similar adventures George W Bush departed a diminished president and Obama is on track for a similar denouement, if he doesn’t mend his ways.
Moreover, assuming there was a popular will for another war, this time in Syria, which could have gotten out of hand with Russian missile destroyers and Russian personnel manning the S-300/S-400 anti-aircraft batteries to blunt the first wave of the expected USAF attack sorties, and the Chinese flotilla of three missile destroyers also in the mix, apart from Britain and France, a reluctant set of NATO allies, and no great support elsewhere for any aggressive American action, where is the money to prosecute the operations? A minimum of a billion dollars a month for the Syrian theatre at a time of deep defence budgetary cuts makes for daunting circumstances. It persuaded Leaders from Obama’s own Democratic Party to counsel caution. Ironic isn’t it that in the event the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, showed Obama the way out?
So, in the wake of all this, it is status quo ante — Bashar Assad stays on in Damascus with renewed Russian military support. Israel which had hoped to ride on Obama’s desire for war by launching missile strikes on Syrian targets, has perforce to back down. And the Syrian rebel army is left, as they should have expected, to the tender mercies of Assad’s forces with tepid materiel assistance trickling in but not enough to upset the military equation. The rebels may still fight on but with progressively bleaker prospects.