September 1, 2013
Obama Must Own his Syrian Mess
The U.S. Congress must reject President Barack Obama’s attempt to lay his Syrian mess at their doorstep.
The president had two years to do the right thing in Syria, while more than 100,000 people were being killed and millions displaced, and he chose to drag his feet and do virtually nothing. This apathy and inaction allowed murderous jihadists to take over the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime, and, guess what?
Now it’s too late to pick a good side. There isn’t any. They're both horrendous.
Obama has been trapped by his own negligence.
When Assad called Obama’s bluff two weeks ago and used chemical weapons, the president found himself in a real pickle.
On the one hand, he couldn’t be made to look like fool, not after calling the use of chemical weapons in Syria a “red line” he wouldn’t tolerate.
On the other hand, a "narrow and limited” military strike would also make him look like a fool, as Assad would certainly celebrate his heroic “victory” of surviving the wrath of the Great Satan.
There are a lot of unknowns in the Syrian morass, but this much we know: Obama has neither the will nor the inclination to start another Iraq war. No boots on the ground. No regime change. No nation building.
Obama knows that if we remove the Assad regime now, we can expect a chaotic terrorist state that would make Lebanon look like Club Med.
So, by the perverted rules of the Middle East, any limited U.S. attack that won’t remove the regime will only strengthen the hand of the very regime we are trying to punish.
Like a smart politician once said, “That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.”
That was Barack Obama in 2002, before he met the temptations of power, passion and politics.
It was the president’s passion for politics that made him naively push for a “negotiated solution” to the Syrian civil war, while tens of thousands were being murdered and while it was still possible for the U.S. to arm and strengthen a more moderate opposition.
“Obama’s efforts largely stopped at calling for the Geneva II conference,” Michael Young wrote recently in the Beirut Star. “The president never sought to integrate a military strategy in Syria with his political aims…Early on American officials said that President Bashar Assad had to leave office, as if a mere statement would push him to book a flight out of Damascus. Yet nothing was done to turn that thought into a reality.”
As a result, “Syrian opposition has come to be defined, and to an extent overcome, by its most extreme elements.”
The effort to oppose Assad’s rule, Young adds, was crippled by “discord between the more moderate opposition figures, the bankruptcy of the Arab states, the futility of the Western Europeans,” and, most of all, by “the cowardice and lack of foresight of the United States.”
This cowardice and lack of foresight came to a head when Assad murdered 1,500 of his own people with chemical weapons and forced Obama’s hand.
What statement will Obama make if he attacks now? That it’s okay to murder 100,000 people as long as you use only regular weapons?
Try telling that to any of the thousands of Syrian mothers who’ve watched their children die from regular bombs and bullets.
When Obama says, as he did last Friday, that “the murderer of innocent children must not go unpunished,” those grieving Syrian mothers have every right to shout back at him: “Where were you the past two years while our own children were being murdered?”
He was playing politics without a military spine, something otherwise known as negligence.
Well, now that he wants to play G.I. Joe, it’s simply too little, too late.
At this late and messy stage, any “limited” U.S. military action would not only risk a major conflagration in the region, but also demonstrate how little power the U.S. has these days to exert a positive influence in the roiling Middle East.
As Fareed Zakaria wrote on CNN.com, "The manner in which the Obama administration has first created and then mismanaged this crisis will, alas, cast a long shadow on America’s role in the world."
Having painted himself into this very tight corner, on Saturday morning Obama went back to what he knows best—politics— by trying to draw Congress into a trap of his own making, or, as The New York Times put it, “into a box he made.”
Congress must say no to Obama's transparent search for political cover and hold him accountable for the strategic mess he’s created.
At the very least, as Marc Thiessen writes in the Washington Post, it should demand that "Obama show he has a plan beyond firing a 'shot across the bow' in Syria — a comprehensive strategy to alter the balance of power by strengthening the secular, moderate pro-Western elements of the opposition, so that al-Qaeda-backed Islamic extremists do not come to power and the regime that eventually replaces Bashar al-Assad’s is not worse than Assad’s."
The message is not that military action is wrong, but that, at this point, the proposed action is too lame and too late.