Seldom do you find Arabs anywhere in the Middle East who have warm feelings about America’s most recent war with Iraq, especially in Syria where many people were actively involved in supporting the Iraqi insurgency.
Yet as Syria’s upheaval nears the two-year mark, many of those who are increasingly desperate for a foreign intervention to end the conflict now reference Iraq as a seemingly positive example of why America might decide to help. With an eye on the US elections, they say they hope the party that brought them the Iraq war might also bring America to Syria.
“The Republicans prefer using the military. Like Bush, he entered Iraq and Afghanistan. They use the military in all cases so maybe they will try to intervene here,” says Mustafa Abu Abdu, who used to be a psychology student before the war. “Obama will keep saying that [President Bashar] Assad must stop and that America is sorry about civilian deaths, but he will not do anything to help here.”
A number of Syrians like Mr. Abdu say they hope Tuesday’s election in America will bring Mitt Romney into the Oval Office because they say he is more likely to change the US policy in favor an intervention in Syria.
Though Romney is an unlikely candidate for long time enemies of Israel to favor – he maintains close ties to Israel and promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem – the potential for him to take military action in Syria trumps any other controversial stances he has for many Syrians.
“Obama has had almost two years to help here. What more can he do?” says Abdul Kareem Islami, a tile shop owner in Aleppo. “Obama didn't help us so maybe Romney will be better.”
Romney has said the US should help to organize the resistance and work with allies to supply arms to those fighting President Bashar al-Assad who share "our interests and values," according to his website. However, he seemed to rule out any US military intervention in the final debate on foreign policy.
"[S]eeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us," Romney said, but added that "we don’t want to have military involvement there. We don’t want to get drawn into a military conflict."
Disillusionment with Obama
Many Syrians had hoped that under Obama’s leadership the US would do more to help turn the tide in their struggle against President Assad. Shortly after taking office, Obama was seen throughout the region as a long-desired shift in American policy in the region. Obama’s middle name and youth spent in Muslim-majority Indonesia – which many Obama critics in the US seize upon – are seen as a positive in Syria.
During the past two years in Syria, however, Obama has done little to please those struggling to overthrow Assad's government. While Obama has condemned Assad’s brutal crackdown and called on him to leave office, he’s stopped short of offering any direct military assistance, particularly something to help rebels counter Assad’s air force.
“We know how Obama deals with us so we hope Romney will be different,” says Zakarai Hassan Eshowi, an FSA fighter who was a painter before the war. “If Obama wins it will just stay the same. Nothing will change with Obama.”
Still, there are many others who say that American policy is unlikely to change whoever wins on Tuesday.
“I don't think it will make a difference who is president. We don't care who is the president. If it is Obama or Romney, he will be like Assad just following orders,” says Mahmoud Nadoum, a Free Syrian Army commander in Aleppo. “The US president is just implementing a policy.”