Syria and 2014 Midterm Congressional Election

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Seyed Mohammad Eslami
Expert on Middle East Issues

Will US President Barack Obama finally attack Syria? Nobody can give a definite answer to this question. Members of the US House of Representatives are to make a decision about the degree and scope of US engagement with the ISIS. They are also supposed to discuss such issues as authorization for sending arms and equipment as well as training of the so-called “moderate” militants in Syria. Howard P. McKeon, Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee, has informed the US government of amendments to the so-called “Syria Train and Equip Mission” bill, which had been submitted by the government. The amendments include a ban on allocating additional funds to this purpose as well as “introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities or in to situations where hostilities are clearly indicated by the circumstances. ” it seems that the Republican senators have been the main driving forces behind the amendments, which aim, among other things, to restrict the powers of the US President Barack Obama in any possible operations against ISIS. Nonetheless, the case of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is much more complicated to allow the US Congress and administration to make a final decision on it on their own. The general remarks made following conferences on ISIS in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh and the French capital, Paris, clearly proved that even in other countries, which are involved in this case, nobody has been yet able to find a solution and cut the Gordian knot of extremism in the Middle East region.

The question now is what kind of moderate forces Obama is planning to use against President Bashar Assad in Syria? He has no more than two options available on the table. The first option is a national coalition consisting of all the groups that are opposed to the government of the Syrian president, as well as the so-called Free Syrian Army. Both that coalition and the Free Syrian Army are, in fact, considered as political and military branches of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Obama, however, is not free to support them as he likes. For one thing, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as two major Arab powers in the region, have made it clear to the US administration that fighting against ISIS should not be carried out at the cost of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has even went further than that. In a meeting with the US Secretary of State John Kerry, Sisi has set a condition for his country’s participation in any kind of war on terror by stipulating that if terrorism is to be fought, all its forms, including the Muslim Brotherhood, should be countered. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has also identified the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

Therefore, if Washington opted for lending its support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, it would put an automatic end to the outward coalition between the United States and its Arab allies in the region. Such a support may even lead to a form of proxy war in Syria and Iraq between the United States, on the one side, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on the other side. There is not the slightest speck of doubt that empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood anywhere in the region is a serious red line for these two countries. Therefore, they will spare no effort to prevent this from happening and counter the Muslim Brotherhood even if it makes them support a terrorist group such as ISIS.

The second option available to Obama is to support such terrorist groups as Jabhah al-Islamiyya as-Suriyyah (the Syrian Islamic Front), Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front), Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham (Movement of the Free Men of the Levant) and so forth. The situation about these groups is much more complicated. Some of these groups, including the offshoots of the Syrian Islamic Front, have already sworn their allegiance to ISIS. Others, like Al-Nusra Front compete with ISIS in terms of the severity of their terrorist acts as well as other acts of violence. Many heads have been cut off in Syria and many other acts of violence have been committed and in all cases, these groups have been behind those crimes. Therefore, to use a strategy of launching a proxy war in Syria against ISIS using other terrorist groups, which are similar in their ways to ISIS, will not be compatible with the alleged goal of the United States to fight extremism in the region. If any of these groups snatched the power reins in any country, what ISIS is currently doing would be their ideal model of governance.

All told, if Obama reaches a final decision to engage ISIS on the Syrian soil, it would be certain that he is pursuing goal or goals that have nothing to do with fighting extremism in the region. That goal(s) may be determined on the basis of domestic situation that Obama is facing at home and his need to resort to a tactical show in order to satisfy his country’s public opinion. Another important development, which is forthcoming, is the mid-term US congressional election that has been scheduled for November and can also provide the US administration with an even more powerful motivation to put up a new political and military show. Mainstream American media outlets such as Fox News and Wall Street Journal have argued that the issue of the US foreign policy will be a determining factor in this year’s congressional election. They have added that the obvious weakness of Barack Obama’s administration in the area of foreign policy may prove to be the Achilles’ heel of Democrats in the upcoming congressional election. Therefore, a new military show may serve to help the US government to cover up its weakness in the field of foreign policy. It seems that this is exactly why the Republican senators are doing their best to further limit the scope of the US army’s military operations in Iraq and Syria as they actually want to strip Obama and the Democrat party of the opportunity to perform this military show.

Key Words: Syria, Midterm Congressional Election, US Plan to Fight ISIS, Moderate Militants, Free Syrian Army, Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syrian Islamic Front, Al-Nusra Front, Eslami

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