What it all means is that we may now be at a historic turning point in the Arab Spring—what is effectively the end of it, at least for now. Assad, says Syria expert Joshua Landis, is surely taking on board the lessons of the last few weeks: If the United States wasn’t going to intervene or even protest very loudly over the killing of mildly radical Muslim Brotherhood supporters, it’s certainly not going to take a firmer hand against Assad’s slaughter of even more radical anti-U.S. groups. “With a thousand people dead or close to it, and America still debating whether to cut off aid, and how and when, that’s got to give comfort to Assad,” says Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma. “The Egyptians brushed off the United States and said…. Well, we don’t want to end up like Syria. And America blinked. And Israel and the Gulf states were in there telling them to hit the protesters hard.”
What began, in the U.S. interpretation, as an inspiring drive for democracy and freedom from dictators and public corruption has now become, for Washington, a coldly realpolitik calculation. As the Obama administration sees it, the military in Egypt is doing the dirty work of confronting radical political Islam, if harshly. In Syria, the main antagonists are both declared enemies of the United States, with Bashar al-Assad and Iran-supported Hezbollah aligning against al-Qaida-linked Islamist militias. Why shouldn’t Washington’s policy be to allow them to engage each other, thinning the ranks of each?
And by all accounts, the administration and the Pentagon simply don’t want to risk the “blowback” that could occur if the Assad regime collapses and serious weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaida. As one Washington-based military expert points out, Assad is just not enough of a threat to U.S. interests.