Opinion » Comment

Updated: August 31, 2013 12:28 IST

The waning of American hegemony

  • Flynt Leverett
  • Hillary Mann Leverett
Comment (6)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

An illegal intervention in Syria will not only fail to sustain American hegemony in West Asia but also provide a shot in the arm for Assad’s regime

Once carried out, the Obama administration’s thoroughly telegraphed strike on Syria, ostensibly over alleged chemical weapons use there, will mark an important inflection point in the terminal decline of America’s West Asia empire. Most importantly, it will confirm that America’s political class, including President Barack Obama himself, remains unwilling to face the political risks posed by any fundamental revision of Washington’s over-20-year, deeply self-damaging drive to dominate the region.

Mr. Obama initially ran for President pledging to end the “mindset” behind the strategic blunder of America’s 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq; in his first term, he committed to ending America’s war in Afghanistan, too, and to “rebalancing” toward Asia. But Mr. Obama was never ready to spend the political capital required for thoroughgoing recasting of U.S. foreign policy; consequently, the dissipation of American power (hard and soft) evident under George W. Bush has accelerated.

Mr. Obama’s approach to Syria illustrates why. Since conflict started there two and a half years ago, Washington has had openings for a negotiated resolution. This, though, would entail power-sharing between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and oppositionists and cooperation with Russia, Iran, and China to fix a settlement. Instead, Mr. Obama doubled down on reasserting American hegemony.

Desperate moves

When unrest began in Syria in March 2011, Mr. Obama and his team were desperate to show — after the loss of pro-Western regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and near-misses in Bahrain and Yemen — that the Arab Awakening did not just threaten authoritarian orders that subordinated their foreign policy to Washington. They wanted to show that leaders committed to foreign policy independence — like Mr. Assad — were vulnerable, too. They also calculated that Mr. Assad’s ouster would tilt the regional balance against Tehran, generating leverage to force Iran’s surrender of its right to an internationally safeguarded but indigenous nuclear fuel cycle.

Two years ago, Mr. Obama declared that Mr. Assad “must go,” eviscerating prospects for a political settlement. Mr. Obama further damaged diplomatic prospects with three U.N. Security Council resolutions effectively authorising coercive regime change in Damascus, which Russia and China vetoed. His Syria strategy rested on the surreal proposition that a staggeringly fractious “opposition,” much of which publicly aligns with al-Qaeda and is not supported by anything close to a majority of Syrians, would unseat Mr. Assad, who (according to polls and other evidence) enjoys support from at least half of Syrian society.

Mr. Obama compounded all this with an equally foolish declaration that chemical weapons use was a U.S. “red line” — giving those looking for U.S. intervention motive to gas innocent civilians. Now that such weapons have been used, Mr. Obama cannot entertain that oppositionists may be responsible, for this would undercut his Syria strategy. His administration has presented no evidence that Mr. Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in Ghouta; when it alleged chemical weapons use at Khan al-Assal in March, it also offered no evidence of government responsibility. By contrast, Russia publicly presented a detailed forensic analysis showing that neither the munitions used at Khan al-Assal nor the chemical agent in them had been industrially manufactured and that, “therefore, there is every reason to believe that it was the armed opposition fighters who used the chemical weapons.” Washington rejected this —and, after trying to derail a U.N. investigation of more recent allegations about Ghouta, has pre-emptively dismissed whatever U.N. inspectors there now may conclude.

No justification

With these positions, Mr. Obama has left himself no option except using force to preserve U.S. “credibility.” His planned strike, though, is illegal. Even if chemical weapons were used, it does not justify U.S. aggression. Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC); the 1925 Geneva Protocol, to which it is a party, only proscribes chemical weapons use in war against another state. Neither designates Washington as its “enforcer.” More broadly, the United Nations Charter, which America largely drafted, forbids using force except under two circumstances:

• “[I]f an armed attack occurs against a” member state; regardless of who used chemical weapons in Syria, no other state was attacked or threatened with attack, so the “right of individual or collective self-defence” posited in the Charter does not apply (unless one stretches the definition of “self-defence” to mean “anything Washington does not like”).

• When the Security Council authorises force “to maintain or restore international peace and security”; no such resolution is in effect for Syria, and Russia and China will prevent the Council from adopting one.

Lack of legality is undermining the willingness of the Arab League and even of usually reliable hangers-on like Britain to endorse a strike. When Mr. Obama moves, he may have a smaller coalition than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush had for their illegal wars in, respectively, Kosovo and Iraq.

Mr. Obama’s strike will further accelerate erosion of America’s position in West Asia. Mr. Assad will emerge with greater political support, not less; Russian and Chinese influence will be enhanced. While backing Mr. Assad has cost Iran and Hizbollah some of the popularity they accrued with Sunni Arab publics from their long records of “resistance” to Israel and America, both judge that, if either America or Israel becomes militarily involved in Syria, this will undercut Saudi-sponsored narratives depicting the conflict in sectarian terms, transforming it into more Iranian-led resistance. Mr. Obama is about to oblige them — ushering in a regional balance increasingly tilted against the United States.

(The writers are authors of Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran (New York: Metropolitan, 2013). They teach international relations, Flynt at Penn State, Hillary at American University.)

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So the demon is The US.Right then Assad must keep pushing millions of child refugees into neighbouring countries.Then the US would be an angel.As for stability in the region it can't be more destabilised since al quida is already on rise in the nation given the support by local rebel fighters.Any support at this time is godsent for them.

from:  abhishek kumar baranwal
Posted on: Aug 31, 2013 at 13:47 IST

Your chemical weapon trick didn't take of well.Bad Luck US!!! better luck next time. Nevertheless, you will attack and wipe out Syria because Israel is so itching to clean out Syria.
So what are you waiting for?
Of course US and its allies lack Moral values or Ethos. So majority will not anymore mean they are right. It is just a number.
Take the history and see for yourself US. No sinner has been around for long and died a tragic death.

from:  Ansari
Posted on: Aug 31, 2013 at 11:26 IST

It is about time that the demonization of the USA stops. The opinion reflected by the authors
is appallingly narrow. Reasonable people, even ones likely to be on opposite sides of the
political fence, would agree that chemical weapons were used by Syria. The USA is the only
country willing to spend resources and take risks to defend small children, women, and
decent men who'd like nothing better than to live a life of order and happiness. Comparing
this effort to a decidedly controversial engagement in Iraq is absolutely disingenuous. Yes,
mistakes have occured in the past. But, to take cover under a toothless law that effectively
says "you cannot attack any country that's not party to the chemical weapons treaty" is a bit
like saying "You can never prosecute murderers because they have not signed on to the I-
will-not-murder-agreement". While the other Arab "democracies" exhibit a feckless silence
and refuse to help, someone needs to step in and provide a solid defense.

from:  Sri Raghavan
Posted on: Aug 31, 2013 at 10:36 IST

The learned authors do not propose any tangible solution to prevent innocent men, women
and children being gassed to death. They take shelter behind Russian version to point
fingers at the opposition as possible perpetrators totally ignoring the fact that Russia is a
regular supplier of military equipment to Syria and therefore is biased in their favor. They
also ignore the iron fist used by Assad in dealing with opposition rather than negotiation.
There is blame on all sides and castigating Obama alone will not set the record straight.

from:  Ramakrishnan
Posted on: Aug 31, 2013 at 10:36 IST

It is very obvious that the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as claimed by the US, has about the same credibility as the possession of WMDs by Saddam Hussain.

from:  Subramanyam Sridharan
Posted on: Aug 31, 2013 at 10:17 IST

Unlike the Mullah regime in Iran which is a backer of the Syrian regime, the Mullah regime does not have support of the majority of the population. Assad is a dictator no doubt but Syria is a secular state and religious minorities are doing fine, unlike in Iran where the religious minorities are fourth class citizens denied equal opportunities over a wide range of economic and political spectrum.
The USA as shown in past lacks political expertise to deal with the quamire of political problems in the middle east. Attacking and displacing Assad would inevitably lead to the fall of the Saudi regime and the establishment of an Al Queada regime leading to the closure of all American bases in Saudi Arabia A fatal to USA ambitions in the middle east

from:  Farhan
Posted on: Aug 31, 2013 at 08:13 IST
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