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Foreign Policy: Too Big to Fail?

Author: Aaron David Miller
May 12, 2011

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In Foreign Policy, Aaron David Miller argues that the Obama Administration belives Syria's repressive dictatorship is so crucial to Mideast peace and stability that the United States can't let it fail.

If you're a bit confused about U.S. President Barack Obama's passivity in the face of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brutal repression of domestic opposition, don't be. Syria isn't Libya. The Assad regime is just too consequential to risk undermining.

Although the fall of the House of Assad might actually benefit U.S. interests, the president isn't going to encourage it. For realists in the White House, Assad's demise carries more risks than opportunities.

Great powers behave inconsistently -- even hypocritically -- depending on their interests. That's not unusual; it's part of the job description. In fact, in responding to the forces of change and repression loosed throughout the Arab world, flexibility is more important than ideological rigidity.

The last thing America needs is a doctrine or ideological template to govern how it responds to fast-breaking changes in a dozen Arab countries, all of which are strikingly different in their respective circumstances.

That the administration's response often seemed like a giant game of whack-a-mole, with a new problem popping up daily, was inevitable. And so was the variety of U.S. responses. In Bahrain, where the United States had established the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, and in Yemen, where counterterrorism is king, interests trumped values. You didn't hear Obama make any "Qaddafi must go"-style speeches directed against Bahrain's ruling Khalifa family or Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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