More than 90,000 people are estimated to have died in the uprising turned civil war, according to the United Nations, with no end in sight. The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with help from Iran and fighters sent by Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group, have gained the upper hand in recent months. A haphazard and noncommittal Western policy on Syria has left the country’s moderate opposition impotent and scuttled the prospect of U.S.- and Russian-backed peace talks in the near future, according to analysts and rebel representatives. Meanwhile, they say, unrest in Egypt has pushed the Syrian crisis further down the agenda.
One of the Syrian women at the Jordanian camp asked Kerry: “What are you waiting for? We hope you will not go back to the States before you find a solution to the crisis. At least impose a no-fly zone or an embargo.”
The State Department asked reporters not to use the refugees’ names.
“The U.S., as a superpower, can change the equation in Syria in 30 minutes after you return to Washington,” the woman continued, drumming a pen on the table.
“They are frustrated and angry at the world,” Kerry said afterward. If he were in their shoes, he added, he also would be asking for help anywhere he could get it.
The Obama administration, in a policy shift, has pledged to send weapons to the ragtag Syrian rebel forces, though the opposition says they are yet to arrive. Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the main Syrian Opposition Coalition, said Wednesday that its leaders expect to learn more about the promised U.S. assistance when they meet with Ambassador Robert Ford in Istanbul on Saturday. Saleh added, however, that there is little hope of weapons that would change the balance of power on the ground — which is essential if the Assad government is to be persuaded to negotiate in any substantive way, analysts said.
The political process has reached a “standstill,” Saleh said.
“The U.S. has approached the two questions of arming and diplomacy in the same hesitant, unfocused, uncommitted and unprepared way,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The result is disastrous. It has lost credibility, confused partners and alienated potential Syrian partners.”
Western diplomats say infighting in the mainstream opposition has not helped its cause.
However, Yezid Sayigh, an analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said the West’s obsession with the “musical chairs” of Syrian opposition leaders flows from its reluctance to commit to any meaningful strategy.