DAMASCUS // Syria will be near, if not top of, the next US president’s foreign policy inbox. The US election has long been seen as a crucial moment in the bloody Syrian conflict, with widespread hopes and fears that the world’s only superpower will line up more decisively on the side of the rebels once voting is out of the way.
As president, Mr Obama has helped those trying to topple Bashar Al Assad, while refraining from handing the Free Syrian Army the firepower it needs to break government forces.
After the election, either Mr Romney or Mr Obama may boost the supply of weapons to the rebels. Diplomatic solutions will remain off the table, foiled both by the West versus Moscow-and-Tehran proxy war over Syria, and Mr Al Assad’s determination to smash his enemies with an iron fist.
Syria poses the next US president with unpalatable choices. Leaving a gruesome war to fester will destabilise the Middle East, turn the rebels against the US and empower hardline Islamist militants. Yet deepening American involvement risks embroiling it in a battle with Russia, Iran and Hizbollah that it may not win.
But accompanying the danger of an exploding Syria is a rare opportunity for the US to reshape the Middle East in its favour, a prize the next commander-in-chief may find too tantalising to forego.