Map of the Middle East
The UK Telegraph’s Nile Gardiner explains how Democrat foreign policy made the current crisis in Syria worse.
Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is monstrous. A hundred thousand civilians have died at its hands in the last two years, and more than a million Syrians have fled the country since it began its war of attrition against rebel groups. It is almost certainly responsible for the massacre of up to 1,300 people in a suburb of Damascus last week through the use of chemical weapons. Many of the victims included women and children. Assad is a Baathist thug of the highest order, a figure of unremitting evil with few parallels in the modern world. The downfall of his dictatorship cannot come soon enough, and no peace can be realistically achieved in Syria until Assad goes.
In the face of Assad’s brutality, however, Washington and the West as a whole have been largely impotent. The White House’s strategy has been one of abject confusion, with no clear leadership from the president. Barack Obama’s approach has been one of “leading from behind,” a phrase first coined by one of his own advisers. He has been content to farm out US foreign policy to a feckless United Nations, and has kowtowed to a ruthless Moscow, which views Syria as a client state, a useful bulwark against American influence in the Middle East, and a thorn in the side of the world’s superpower.
The Russian “reset,” pioneered by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, has been one of the biggest foreign policy flops of the modern era, involving an extraordinary degree of deference towards a major strategic adversary. Clinton, it should be recalled, referred to Assad as “a reformer” as recently as April 2011, while former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, made a number of trips to Damascus to meet with Assad prior to the civil war.
Similarly, the Obama administration has been content to allow the Iranians to plough money, arms and military personnel into Syria in support of Assad, providing a vital lifeline for the pariah state. Washington’s engagement strategy with Tehran has been a massive folly, simply emboldening the Mullahs with no consequences.
My Dad and I were talking about what the United States should do now to deter the use of chemical weapons, and we came up with two alternatives. Use our covert operations capability (such as it is) to kill Assad or go with a tactical military strike against the top of the Assad regime – either surface-to-surface missiles or standoff air strike. I think that Obama has weakened the clandestine services so much over the years by exposing their methods, exposing their sources, prosecuting them for doing their jobs, etc. that they are not strong enough to do the job. So it’s going to have to be a more messy military strike against the top level of the Assad regime, if the goal is to solve the problem.
Foreign policy expert Bret Stephens writes about that option in the Wall Street Journal.
Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar’s brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family’s power, including all of their official or unofficial residences. The use of chemical weapons against one’s own citizens plumbs depths of barbarity matched in recent history only by Saddam Hussein. A civilized world cannot tolerate it. It must demonstrate that the penalty for it will be acutely personal and inescapably fatal.
[...]As it is, a strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that will not run afoul of the only red line Mr. Obama is adamant about: not getting drawn into a protracted Syrian conflict. And it is the one option that has a chance to pay strategic dividends from what will inevitably be a symbolic action.
[...]On Monday John Kerry spoke with remarkable passion about the “moral obscenity” of using chemical weapons, and about the need to enforce “accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.” Amen, Mr. Secretary, especially considering that you used to be Bashar’s best friend in Washington.
[...]The world can ill-afford a reprise of the 1930s, when the barbarians were given free rein by a West that had lost its will to enforce global order. Yes, a Tomahawk aimed at Assad could miss, just as the missiles aimed at Saddam did. But there’s also a chance it could hit and hasten the end of the civil war. And there’s both a moral and deterrent value in putting Bashar and Maher on the same list that once contained the names of bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.
The rest of the article evaluates alternatives like striking Syria’s chemical weapons dumps, but concludes that a strike against the top of the Assad regime as the best option, if the goal is to solve the problem. I am not even sure if it is possible to get the top of the Assad regime this way, since we need intelligence to know where they are, and maybe even to point LTIDs at the targets. That can’t be done with the push of a button. These options require intelligence work to have been done up front, and we haven’t done it. Now we are stuck with the need to deter chemical weapon use, but we have few options and fewer capabilities.
There are two problems with Bret Stephens’ preferred scenario. First, the Assad regime has the backing of the Russians and the Iranians. They might not like it if we took out their puppet and his helpers. Second, the influence of the moderates in the Syrian opposition is uncertain. We don’t have a clear ally in the Syrian opposition, like we do in Egypt with the Egyptian army. From what I am hearing, the rebels are significantly Al Qaeda. We could have been cultivating those relationships with the moderate faction, but we were not doing that. So the whole thing is very risky. It didn’t need to be this bad, but we elected the pacificist multiculturalist moral relativist CYA Democrats in charge, and they’ve made a mess of the Middle East. Instead of elevating the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and Egypt, we should have been focused like a laser beam on Syria. We weren’t engaged like we should have been.
To quote again from Nile Gardiner’s UK Telegraph article:
Syria is not Iraq or Afghanistan, where the United States had clear-cut military objectives and national interests at stake when it went to war. The conflict in Syria is further complicated by the rise of Islamist groups with links to al-Qaeda, who have thrived amidst the chaos, and in some cases have targeted the Christian minority in the country. The Obama administration has made little serious effort to cultivate pro-Western, non-Islamist rebels in Syria, whose influence has waned, while the Islamists have gained strength.
Ultimately, the Syrian debacle has exposed the emptiness of the Obama doctrine, one that is based upon hand-wringing, appeasement, and the scaling back of American power. President Obama has been content to weaken US influence, while playing a back seat role on the world stage. There are many things the White House could have done to erode Assad’s regime over the past two years while strengthening the hand of pro-Western rebels, including aggressively challenging Iranian support for Damascus, forcefully standing up to Moscow at the UN Security Council, coordinating support for the Free Syrian Army among the Gulf States and Turkey, and pressuring the Saudis to crack down on Islamist networks fueling al-Qaeda-tied groups in Syria.
But, of course, the Obama administration did none of those things, because those things would require leadership and vision.
By the way, in case you are wondering where Syria’s chemical weapons came from, the most likely scenario is that they were moved from Iraq. We had reliable intelligence before the Iraq war that Saddam had chemical weapons, and evidence emerged later that Iraq’s WMDs were moved to Syria.
UPDATE: Ralph Peters who is an expert in foreign policy is saying no to the strike idea. He prefers do nothing to an effective strike (the Bret Stephens option). But Peters doesn’t think that Obama will do an effective strike. So I am not sure what to do now. I am hearing that the opposition is not moderate in any way, and we shouldn’t be helping them at all by attacking Assad.
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