In his New Yorker interview, President Obama tried to justify his lack of action in Syria this way:
It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.
This is intellectual sloppiness in the service of intellectual dishonesty; in other words, it is vintage Obama.
I don’t know of anyone who suggests that by financing and arming the opposition earlier, the U.S. could have caused both the demise of Assad and a peaceful transition. But it’s hardly “magical thinking” to believe that an outcome better than the tragic one we are witnessing could have been produced by arming and financing the opposition earlier and by taking limited military action that in no way resembles what we did in Iraq.
A year or so ago, the imminent demise of the Assad regime, far from a figment of magical thinking, was the conventional wisdom. Had the U.S. thrown its weight behind the non-jihadist opposition, it’s not far-fetched to think that Assad would have fallen. And it’s quite plausible to believe that Assad would not have regained the ascendancy and would not be able to indulge in the mass butchery of his people that is now occurring.
A “peaceful transition” is another matter. But had we armed and financed the non-jihadist opposition and given it credibility by using air power on its behalf, we could have kept that opposition viable. In this scenario, it is realistic to envisage a transition in which forces not inimical to our interests would play a significant role in both the fighting and the transition.
But thanks to Obama’s indifference, such forces have been marginalized. It’s not clear who the winner in Syria will be — Assad/Hezbollah/Iran, Islamic extremists, or both (depending on which part of the country one is talking about). But it seems clear enough that the winner will not be any force or entity that is not the sworn enemy of the U.S.
The notion that the U.S. can conduct a successful proxy war seems to have eluded Obama. Sadly, his knowledge of history appears to begin and end with the Iraq war.
Seth Mandel says that “Obama lacks patience and strategic thinking” and “acts as though difficulty precludes victory.” The alternative and equally plausible explanation is that Obama has little interest in victory over anyone except those who oppose his domestic agenda.