Yesterday, I suggested that Mitt Romney needs a foreign policy critique of President Obama that ties Obama’s failings in a specific country or situation to his poor instincts and hugely flawed overall approach. Today, Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post performs this task with respect to Syria, which he calls “Obama’s greatest failure.”
As Diehl explains: “The president’s handling of Syria. . .exemplifies every weakness in his foreign policy – from excessive faith in “engaging” troublesome foreign leaders to his insistence in multilateralism as an end in itself to his self-defeating caution in asserting American power.” That sums it up nicely.
First, Obama tried to cozy up to Bashar al-Assad, reversing the Bush administration’s policy of seeking to isolate the dictator and embracing the approach of John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, who ridiculously viewed Assad as a potential broker of Middle East peace. When the uprising broke out in Syria, the Obama administration clung to the illusion that, in Hillary Clinton’s words, Assad might be a “reformer” who could be induced to coopt the rebellion.
Then, when out-and-out civil war emerged, Obama turned U.S. policy over to the United Nations and Kofi Annan, the U.N.’s peace broker. Annan’s mission was, of course, doomed to fail.
Even more absurdly, the Obama administration then attempted to cast Vladimir Putin in the role of peace broker. But Putin surprised the administration, which fancifully predicted in July that Putin would “get on the horse that backs a transition plan” to remove Assad (Hillary Clinton’s words). Shockingly, Putin preferred to advance Russia’s interests, and declined to outst his country’s long-time ally – virtually the only one it has left in the region.
Since then, Obama essentially has done nothing except, as Diehl observes, to reassert his mindless campaign slogan that “the tide of war is receding” in the Middle East. In the meantime, the war in Syria is spreading to Turkey and Jordan, and drawing hundreds of al Qaeda into Syria. In fact, says Diehl, al Qaeda is now “far more active in Syria than it is in Libya.”
Killing bin Laden was a wonderful thing. But it isn’t enough to compensate for policies that are enabling the next generation of al Qaeda operatives to make major headway in crucial zones of the Middle East.