The sources of Obama’s tragic Syria policy

Caroline Glick presents a powerful indictment of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. Perhaps the most damning part of her indictment pertains to Syria, where Obama’s impotence in the face of Assad’s crossing of a “red line” by engaging in chemical warfare represents a national embarrassment and humanitarian disaster.

President Obama’s impotence stems from his well-justified fear that intervening against Assad would bring radical Islamists to power. But according to Glick, it is Obama’s fault that radicals have come to dominate the Syrian opposition:

At the outset of the Syrian civil war two-and-a-half years ago, Obama outsourced the development of Syria’s opposition forces to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. He had other options. A consortium of Syrian Kurds, moderate Sunnis, Christians and others came to Washington and begged for US assistance. But they were ignored. . . .

Obama embraced Erdogan, an Islamic fascist who has won elections, as his closest ally and most trusted adviser in the Muslim world.

And so, with the full support of the US government, Erdogan stacked Syria’s opposition forces with radical Muslims like himself. Within months the Muslim Brotherhood comprised the majority in Syria’s US-sponsored opposition.

The Muslim Brotherhood has no problem collaborating with al-Qaida, because the latter was formed by Muslim Brothers. It shares the Brotherhood’s basic ideology.

Since al-Qaida has the most experienced fighters, its rise to leadership and domination of the Syrian opposition was a natural progression.

In other words, Obama’s decision to have Turkey form the Syrian opposition led inevitably to the current situation in which the Iranian- and Russian-backed Syrian regime is fighting an opposition dominated by al-Qaida.

Halil Karaveli, a Senior Fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program, which are affiliated with the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, supports the key elements of Glick’s indictment of Obama’s Syria policy — namely:

(1) that “the U.S. and Turkey have been closely coordinating their efforts to bring about regime change in Damascus;”

(2) that “Turkey, alongside Qatar, has continued to throw its weight behind the Muslim Brotherhood;” and

(3) that “owing in part to Turkish support, the Muslim Brotherhood has succeeded – even though its social base within Syria is relatively small – in eclipsing other groups, first in the Syrian National Council, which is headquartered in Istanbul, and then within the new opposition umbrella group that was assembled by the U.S. at the end of 2012.

To Obama’s credit, he has reacted to the ascent of the radical Islamists in Syria by backing away from the opposition, even in the face of his pal Erdogan’s advocacy for strongly supporting the opposition. But, as Glick notes, the ascent of the radicals leaves the U.S. with no good options in Syria and with egg on its face for proclaiming a red line that turned out to be meaningless.

Obama is not the first American president to lose his way in the thicket of Middle East politics. What is new, and particularly damning, is the source of Obama’s error of “outsourcing” U.S. policy to Erdogan. Glick ascribes it to the president’s twin goals of “demonstrating that the U.S. would no longer try to dictate international outcomes and of allying the U.S. with Islamic fundamentalists.”

Even if one buys Obama’s negative view of past instances in which America took the lead in dictating international outcomes, it’s difficult to understand why he would prefer Turkish dictation to the exercise of his own benign judgment. But if we acknowledge Obama’s desire to align the U.S. with Islamists — the “wave of the future” in his view — then we see that Obama was exercising substantive judgment by outsourcing his pro-Islamist policy to a pro-Islamist ally.

It’s possible to overstate this point. As noted, Obama has tried to pull back from the worst consequences of Erdogan’s Syria policy. This suggests either that he didn’t intend those consequences in the first place or that he decided later that they are unacceptable. It may be that Obama simply didn’t understand the horrors of modern Islamist radicalism, just as Jimmy Carter didn’t understand the horrors of Iranian Shiite radicalism until too late.

But ignorance on such a vital matter is no defense, especially when, even now, Obama seeks to advance the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

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