Mitt Romney is signalling a more active policy on the Syrian uprising than Barack Obama, calling explicitly for weapons deliveries to rebel forces and framing the conflict in geostrategic terms as one which can lead to defeat for Iran, Bashar al-Assad’s principal ally.
But the Republican candidate is also careful to stress the need to work with partners to “identify and organise” those members of the opposition “who share our values.”
Only they will obtain the arms they need. And the US will not act alone.
Clearly, defeating Assad’s “tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets” will require more than the mostly light weapons that have been smuggled into Syria, via middlemen who work with the Gulf states and Turkey and are reportedly monitored and facilitated by the CIA.
Anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons would probably make a big difference.
But there is no mention of the US taking any action on the ground, involving the “safe zones” or “humanitarian corridors” the fragmented Syrian opposition would like to see.
Romney’s forward remarks on Syria also reference US and western concerns about the growing strength of Islamist and jihadi-type groups on the ground.
By suggesting that Obama is “sitting on the sidelines” the Republican also signals a readiness to look beyond Assad to “develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East”.
On wider Middle Eastern issues, Romney seeks to establish his credentials as a clear-eyed enemy of terrorism, attacking Obama for his “passivity”.
On Libya he promises to “vigorously pursue the terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans”.
The implication, again, is that “vigour” is lacking.
On Egypt, at the heart of the dramatic changes of the Arab spring over the past 18 months, Romney signals readiness to make continuing US aid conditional on inclusiveness – in a coded reference to the Islamist-led government and minority rights – and maintaining the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
Tough talk on Iran includes the promise of “new sanctions” and a readiness to take unspecified actions.
“For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions – not just words – that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated,” Romney said.
Specifically, he calls for the restoration of “the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region” and working “with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination”.
Ian Black, Middle East editor
© 2012 Guardian News and Media