U.SForeign Policy Issues in the Syrian Civil War
Thecoming of Obama into power brought along with him the change in theUnited States foreign policy. The policy adopted by the Obamaadministration in turn becomes the country’s foreign policy.However, his foreign policy has been viewed by many in different wayswith some supporting it, while others being against it. The Obama’spolicy has been criticized across the political arena. Therelationship with the Arab countries, as well as dealing withterrorism has brought along divided views into the Obama’s foreignpolicy. For almost five years, Syria has experienced war with theUnited States being on the forefront to restore peace in the region.Despite the Obama administration looking forward to regionalstability, they have come under criticism on the way in which theyhave approached the Syrian situation. The continued strainedrelationship between the Arab nations such Iran, Yemen, Libya amongothers has led to the review of the United States review of foreignpolicy.
TheSyrian civil war is entering its fifth year, now increasing thenumber of the dead and displaced persons in the country day by day.The conflict which started a non-violent resistance has nowculminated in a complex civil war with many international players1.The Obama government has been a major player in the civil war insupport of the opposition to overhaul Assad’s government on thegrounds of dictatorship and brutality against innocent citizens.These have led to the drafting and implementation of various foreignpolicies. Such foreign policies have been based on competinginterests and domestic politics of various countries, drawing manyinternational states into taking sides in the Syrian conflict2.This has provoked many foreign policy issues, challenges and problemsamong the different countries. This paper discusses the foreignpolicy issues, problems and challenges faced by the ObamaAdministration in the Syrian war.
Governmentforeign policies are formed through a complex process of bureaucraticpolitical compromise. The Obama administration has drafted variousforeign policies with the aims of ending the Syrian crisis bydefeating the Islamic state movement. President Obama has committedhis administration to fighting against violent extremism in Syrialeading to the spillover of the Syrian civil war to Americanterritory through the beheading of two American citizens by theIslamic State group3.This new commitment has provoked some foreign policy issues. Theinvolvement of the international community in the Syria conflict hascomplicated foreign relations policies many countries involved. Thishas necessitated the need for proper well thought out policies toavoid escalating the conflict to external allies on either side.
Academicliterature on bringing a civil war to an end holds that civil warslike the one in Syria usually last for decades and can only bring toan end by two options. The first option is through the victory ofeither side with the surrender of the other. The second option is byreaching a negotiation settlement where both sides come into anagreement after holding talks4.Such a negotiation settlement is only possible if it permits thedivision of political power between the conflicting sides. For such asettlement to hold, power must be shared equally among theconflicting sides or in a way that both sides are contented.
However,the Obama administration policy on Syria does not take this intoaccount. Obama’s government seeks a negotiated settlement to bringan end to the Syrian crisis. The negotiated settlement being soughtby the US is biased to the opposition’s side. The Obamaadministration considers Assad as the most important issue in thecivil war and defines the future of Syria in relation to Assad’sfuture in power. The Obama’s administration, therefore, rejects anyidea, proposing that Assad might retain some degree of power in thenew settlement. It classifies the conflict as two sided betweenAssad’s government and the opposition and supports the oppositionwhich compromises on its idea of being the mediator to bring the twosides together.
Oneof the major views of the American community among the Arabs is that,it has been seen as an enemy, and in turns the strainedrelationships. The civil war in Iran and Syria has been as one. Backhome, the Obama’s administration has been criticized due to the wayit has handled the crisis in these regions. I.e. in Iraq, Obama isblamed for withdrawing Americans forces too early before the troopshad identified security partnership with the government in power. Inthe Syrian region, the Obama administration was equally accused offailure to support the anti-Assad forces in the best way possible.This in turn led to the upcoming of radical Islamist groups such asISIS, and the AL-Nusra Front as the leading forces in the fights.However, the largest blame has fallen on the country’s foreignpolicy, baling the Obama from full utilization of the military force.
TheUS support for the opposition is evidenced by its efforts to equipand train the cooperative Syrian opposition forces to fight theIslamic State forces. On August 31, 2013 president Obama asked the UScongress to give authority for direct American military interventionagainst the government of Syria. The senate committee on foreignaffairs approved the request authorizing the US military to use forceagainst the Syrian government on September 20135.The U.S then confirmed shipping weapons to the rebels and diverting aconsiderable deal of resource to train the rebel troops.
Civilwars with many fighting factions last longer on average than thosewith two conflicting sides6.The existence of many hodge-podge militias further complicates theObama’s foreign policies in the Syrian civil war. Other extremeIslamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra exist. Such groups fightingthe Syrian military forces independently without any cooperation withthe U.S troops7.Therefore, in case such extremists manage to defeat Assad, they areunlikely to cede authority to the US trained opposition forces sincethey did not participate in the fighting. This gives the U.S alliedopposition forces two enemies that is the independent extremist groupas well as Assad’s forces.
Theother foreign policy issue affecting Obama’s administration inSyria is the orientation of external supporters. The externalsupporters such as the US and Russia in Syria’s crisis should havea parallel agreement supporting the division of power among thevarious sides without bias. Such supporters should purpose to offertheir external military assistance to monitor and enforce theagreement reached without favoring either side. The externalsupporters must also clarify the relationship between each other.Neither of them should be superior to the other, but should all takea neutral role in resolving the conflict.
Contraryto the US support for the opposition, Iran and Russia are allied tothe Assad regime8.The US excludes Iran from the negotiations for a settlementnotwithstanding that it is also a key external supporter as well. TheObama administration rejects the idea of Iran, contributing to thedrafting of a settlement its enforcement and monitoring despite thelack any other alternatives. This is because the idea of involvingIran in the negotiations conflicts with the higher US priority ofreducing the Iranian influence in the region. Iran, therefore,supports anything anti US in the region owing to this longstandingconflict between them.
TheIranian government supports the Syrian government forces by providingthem with equipment, intelligence, and oil supplies. The Iraniansbelieved that the interference from the US in Syria’s civil unrestmade the situation more complicated. Some Iranian governmentofficials were even quoted claiming that the protestors were USagents who aimed at destabilizing Syria to benefit Israel. Russiaalso assists Assad’s government more so because Syria was the onlycountry that supported Russia in its Georgia military mission.
Themajor challenge being faced by the Obama administration in defeatingthe Syrian troops is the assistance offered to Assad by alliednations including Russia and Iran. The Russians supply Assad’sgovernment troops with weaponry, finances, and diplomatic supportstrengthening their influence in Syria. Therefore, with Russia andthe U.S being on the opposing sides, the Syrian conflict appears tobe “superpower chessboard contest” making it all the moredifficult to end9.This risks the Syrian civil war to becoming a full brown conflictbetween America and Russia leading to a cold war. The proximity ofboth countries’ troops in the same theater of operations risks theescalation of the conflict.
Russia’smilitary intervention in Syria has complicated the conduct of U.Sforeign policy to support the opposition. The Obama administration isput in a difficult position by the Syrian war in drafting its Syrianpolicies10.The American supported rebels are being attacked directly by theRussian military forces. In case the Obama administration decides tochallenge the Russian forces, they risk an escalation of the conflictand a confrontation with the Russian forces which could lead to alarger war11.Furthermore, such a confrontation would be a direct provocation tothe Russians branding the Obama administration as the aggressorresponsible for escalating the war into dangerous new levels.
Onthe other hand, the failure of the Obama administration to respond tothe Russian attacks on its allied rebels would be deemed as weakness.The U.S would be seen as unwilling to support its allies and thus,surrender leadership role in resolving the Syrian conflict. Thiswould also reduce its influence in the Middle East region. Thisforeign policy dilemma has prevented the U.S air forces fromassisting anti-Assad rebels in their strikes. The Obamaadministration has established a directive to divert all their flightpaths to at least 20 nautical miles away from Russian aircrafts in anattempt to prevent conflict between Russia and the U.S.
Challengesin financing the U.S activities in resolving the Syrian civil warrock Obama’s administration. The Obama administration needs a lotof finances to provide humanitarian support to the displaced andmilitary support for the local opposition groups12.Financial limitations have forced the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) which is responsible for coordinating the US activities inSyria to take budget cuts. The initiative to arm the oppositionforces is estimated to cost the U.S 1 billion dollars annually. 1dollar in every 15 dollars spent by the CIA is directed to the Syriancivil war thus, accounting for 6% in the overall CIA budget13.The agency requires $100, 000 to train one anti Assad rebel inpreparation of a military force. The huge financial requirements area major disadvantage.
TheUS also encounters a standstill with the Syrian people. Majority ofthe lower classes especially the ones among the country’s ethnicand religious minorities still support Assad’s government. TheObama administration presumes that the Syria civil war will come toan end after Assad’s departure. However, the extremists group couldgrow stronger even after the departure of Assad owing to the loyaltyof the local people to the government coupled with Russia’ssupport. In addition, the existence of other factions fighting Assadindependently further complicates the situation in case of Assad’sdeparture as to who will rule.
Inconclusion, the Syrian civil war crisis has escalated to greaterheights over the course of the five years. The involvement of Russiaand other countries in the conflict has reframed U.S foreignpolicies. Foreign intervention by the U.S, Russia, Iran, and othercountries has only worsened the conflict in Syria through theexternal support granted to either of the conflicting sides.Therefore, if the conflict is to be resolved, outside powers shouldcease their involvement in military support to the warring partiesbut instead provide forums for negotiation so as to reach anagreement and bring an end to the hostilities. The externalsupporters should also demonstrate flexibility in their commitment toending the civil war. They should put their differences and prideaside, sit together, and come up with a smart, coherent, and longterm diplomatic approach to help the Syria regain its peace. Despitethe numerous challenges and foreign policy issues facing the Obamaadministration, the country has continued to be on the fore fronttowards the involvement with the global peace. In addition to theabove identified challenges with the Syria civil war, there is also astructural challenge being faced by the US and other outside actorson how to effectively to respond to the social, political and economyunrest in the middle east regions.
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1 Arslanian, Ferdinand. 2014. `The Civil War in Syria: The International Dimension`. Glob Policy 6 (1): 81-83.
2 Higgins, Patrick. 2015. `The War on Syria | Jacobin`. Jacobinmag.Com. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/syria-civil-war-nato-military-intervention/.
3 Blanchard, Christopher, Carla Humud, and Mary Beth Nikitin. 2015. `Armed Conflict on Syria: Overview and U.S. Response`. Congressional Research Service, 1-14. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33487.pdf.
4 Steenkamp, Christina. 2014. Violent Societies. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
5 Pollack, Kenneth. 2014. `Assessing the Obama Administration Iraq-Syria Strategy`. The Brookings Institution. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/markaz/posts/2014/09/26-pollack-assessing-obama-administration-iraq-syria-strategy.
6 Steenkamp, Christina. 2014. Violent Societies. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
7 Pollack, Kenneth. 2014. `Assessing the Obama Administration Iraq-Syria Strategy`. The Brookings Institution. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/markaz/posts/2014/09/26-pollack-assessing-obama-administration-iraq-syria-strategy.
8 Blanchard, Christopher, Carla Humud, and Mary Beth Nikitin. 2015. `Armed Conflict on Syria: Overview and U.S. Response`. Congressional Research Service, 1-14. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33487.pdf.
9 Higgins, Patrick. 2015. `The War on Syria | Jacobin`. Jacobinmag.Com. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/syria-civil-war-nato-military-intervention/.
10 Haass, Richard. 2013. `The Irony of American Strategy`. Council on Foreign Relations
11 Haass, Richard. 2013. `The Irony of American Strategy`. Council on Foreign Relations
12 U.S. Department of State., 2015. `Syria`. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm
13 Blanchard, Christopher, Carla Humud, and Mary Beth Nikitin. 2015. `Armed Conflict on Syria: Overview and U.S. Response`. Congressional Research Service, 1-14. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33487.pdf.