“Is USA playing a Machiavellian rather than a humanitarian game in Syria?” This question has been raised by Fareed Zakaria in his recent piece of article on Daily Star, by Alan Berger on his column on Boston Globe, and by Walt in his blog spot on Foreign Policy. They argue that Obama administration follows essentially realist game in Syria and in wider Middle East. Accordingly, on the one hand, Obama tries to avoid the dangers of deep US involvement in the Syria and Iraq’ quagmires showing the lesson had been learnt from earlier Afghanistan and Iraq interventions. On the other hand, he also sees potential gains from a long war in which his archenemies such as Iran and Hezbollah have heavily involved. Explicitly, Iran and Hezbollah supporting Assad regime in the war in Syria do not just spend plenty of valuable resources but lose their credentials on Muslims populations’ hearts and minds as fighter against American imperialism or Zionism. Supporting an authoritarian Assad regime isn’t helping Russia’s or China’s global image much either. So, with Zakaria’s word, “why not let it continue to burn, especially if you can get the Qataris and Saudis to foot most of the bill?”

Thus, for a historical record, the USA has some sort of gimmick policy choices in Syria in which he ensnare his opponents – Iran and Hezbollah – into long fight that no one can win. This policy aims to entangle Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible to the US.  According to Zakaria, this is exactly what happens on the ground. If this interpretation is correct, then as Zakaria concludes his op-ed; “the White House might well be playing a clever game – but it is Machiavellian rather than humanitarian.”

However, when we think the latest and overall direction of developments in the Middle East, in Iraq and Syria in particular, it is fair claim that Obama’s Machiavellian play doesn’t pay off much as many expected. Even we can say that he is worse off compare to other scenarios. The latest twists and criticisms against Obama presidency should be taken in this direction. Many now think that the US’ Machiavellian strategy doesn’t look like a real foreign policy accomplishment at all.

For a matter of fact, as Michael Glennon argues, two parallel systems now exist in the international system: one de jure, consisting of illusory rules that would govern that use of force among states in platonic world of forms, which is mostly addressed by the body of liberal international theory; and the other de facto, consisting of actual state practice in the real world, a world in which states weigh costs against benefits in regular disregard of rules solemnly proclaimed in the but ignored de jure system, which is overall addressed by the body of realist international relations theory. “Humanitarian intervention” and “Machiavellian play” are two opposite extremes of the de jure and de facto systems whereas Middle East politics cast itself as de facto realities by and large. Furthermore, in the Middle East, even it is true that Obama had a secret Machiavellian agenda, as he is reluctant to intervene in Syria and Iraq, he is not alone. Middle East has no shortage of Machiavellian princes from Iran to Saudi Arabia.
One of the twitter posts which I encountered a few days ago and the latest Kal’s Cartoon on Economist best represent how Machiavelli constantly affects significant numbers of mind and hearts in the Middle East and beyond. Accordingly, thecomplex web of alliances in the Middle East is generally based on Machiavellian calculations rather than settled principles or widely accepted moral values. Who supports who in the region became one of the pseudo-science issue. In Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia support Assad, whereas the US and its allies in the region-Turkey and Gulf Countries in particular- support rebel forces including extremists in some cases whose archenemies is “the West”. On Gaza Issue, Turkey, Iran and Gulf countries support Hamas, whereas US stay against Hamas along with Israel’s enduring bloody wars. Turkey and Qatar supports Muslim Brotherhood movements everywhere in the region, while the US stays idle to them even supports Egyptian Military that toppled Muslim Brotherhood movement. In Iraq, the US supports Iranian leaning Maliki government against Saudi backed extremists. There are tens of, if it is not hundreds, such examples. Therefore, Machiavelli is not an alien to anyone in the Middle East, and Obama can be blamed for many things but should not be accused of having a Machiavellian agenda.
Image Source: Amed Dicle