We continue our look at Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East (see here for Egypt and here for Libya) with a discussion of Syria. Actually, it requires no discussion to conclude that Syria is no Obama foreign policy success story.
The results say it all. Victory for not just Assad but his backers, Iran and Hezbollah. The rise of al Qaeda and other jihadist outfits in portions of the country. More than 150,000 dead Syrians.
As Abe Greenwald summarizes it in his Commentary article, “He’s Made It Worse: Obama’s Middle East”:
Three American antagonists have gained ground. And the Syrian civil war, with its death toll at 150,000, rages on. In March, the New York Times reported that al-Qaeda members are now setting up training operations inside Syria and that intelligence officials have reason to believe they are planning attacks on Europe and the United States.
But with Obama, we don’t just get bad results, we get bonus humiliation. For example, the Bowe Bergdahl deal isn’t just a one-sided prisoner swap; it was a one-sided swap for a deserter. And we were treated to the spectacle of a White House photo op with Bergdahl’s Taliban-sympathizing father; a clear violation of the law requiring congressional notification; and more lies from Susan Rice.
In the case of Syria, our Obama-conferred bonuses include the humiliation of seeing Assad cross a red line with impunity and a Putin-brokered deal on chemical weapons that Assad, predictably, has failed to live up to (according to Greenwald, by some accounts Assad still holds 96 percent of his proscribed chemical weapons).
And let’s not forget that one of Obama’s bright ideas when he became president was that Assad could help him implement his foreign policy objectives of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and fruitful negotiations with Iran. How pathetically misguided can you get?
We saw in the cases of Egypt and Libya that the key decisions Obama had to make weren’t easy ones. One can argue that the same was true in Syria.
But even a broken clock is right twice a day. Obama never seems to make the right call. And no wonder. Anyone who could view Assad as the bridge to a peaceful Middle East was bound to make bad call after bad call.
What was the right call in Syria? I agree with Greenwald that “it’s hard to think of a situation in which ridding Iran of its most important friend wouldn’t have been a net gain.” And I think it’s even clearer that strongly backing forces opposed to both Assad and the jihadist opposition was the correct course. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, what does that make the enemy of two of our enemies?
I’ll give the last word to Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria until he resigned in March because, as the Washington Post puts it, “he could no longer countenance” U.S. policy. Ford told PBS that the Obama administration was “constantly behind the curve, and that’s why now we have extremist threats to our own country.” Ford added that, had the administration offered arms to moderate rebels two years ago, the opposition might control more ground than it does today, and extremists might exert less influence.
That would have been the right call. But it’s one that Obama, conflicted by various iterations of his own BS, could not bring himself to make.