The latest crisis of the moment in the Middle East is in Syria. The Syrian government has reportedly used chemical weapons against its own citizens, killing about 1,400, including hundreds of children. Supposedly, the US government has proof of this. What does the US do about this mess? No one wants to see innocent, defenseless women and children slaughtered. Do we intervene in some manner, and indirectly aid militant rebels that are backed by Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Gods knows who else or do we do nothing and let them all kill each other. We would like to see Assad deposed, but would he be replaced by someone worse, or would a protracted civil war result? No one knows.
Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. President Obama, in his infinite non-wisdom and consistent with his historically inept foreign policy decisions over the last five years, has done neither. Instead he has remained on the sidelines blustering, like some 16 year schoolyard tough guy, about Assad needing to be punished for having crossed a “red line.” He has threatened some retaliation at some point either with a coalition of the willing or alone. I’m sure Assad, who has the backing of both Russia and Iran, is quaking in his boots.
Mr. Obama’s foreign policy track record is abysmal. Some of the lowlights: (1) He has been bullied by Vladimir Putin continually, the latest being Russia’s sheltering of Eric Snowden. (2) We intervened in Libya. How did that work out? Hint, see Benghazi. (3) We intervened in Egypt. How did that work out? We ended up with the Muslim Brotherhood. (4) We continue to dither about Iran and its nuclear capabilities. (5) We ignore North Korea, which openly thumbs its nose at us. (6) We have treated Israel, our only true friend and ally in the region, in such a cavalier manner that it has become wary and suspicious of our motives and strength of commitment to it. Mr. Obama has already demonstrated that he did not study history and economics at Harvard. Now, it appears that he did not study geopolitics either.
Mr. Obama’s style has been to lead from behind. Leak what you are planning to the press. Appear on a talk show with a sympathetic interviewer. Gauge the reaction. Prepare the public (and our enemies). Develop a coalition of the willing. Then and only then, act. This approach has backfired this time. Mr. Obama has appeared indecisive and weak. Furthermore, the British Parliament has refused to support intervention. Congress is not in session, and support from that body is in doubt anyway. Today, the New York Times reported that Mr. Obama is hoping that an unspecified Arab country will publicly join us in a military response. Good luck with that. Does any rational person think that an Arab country will make such a public commitment? (Joe Biden doesn’t count; I said “rational.”)
PREDICTION AND CONCLUSION
The Syria situation is partly the result of 5 years of ineptitude by Mr. Obama. In trying to become everyone’s friend, he has become no one’s friend and has no one’s respect. Countries no longer feel they have to be concerned about an American response to their actions. Mr. Obama does not realize that certain countries and people will hate us no matter what we do, so stop worrying about it, and do what is in America’s best interests.
In this particular situation, we are faced with a Hobson’s choice. My inclination would be not to intervene. We cannot be the world’s policeman any longer. America does not have the resources, and Americans do not have the will. We have to pick and choose when and where to commit American money, materiel and lives. Our recent interventions have met with mixed results if not abject failure. Often, they result in our involvement in prolonged land wars in which thousands of American lives are lost for dubious benefit, e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan. We risk a similar fate in Syria.
There is ample precedent. We did not intervene in Rwanda; we have stood by while Iran has developed nuclear weapons; and we have stood by while North Korea tests nuclear weapons and has repeatedly committed atrocities against its own citizens. Arguably, those situation were and are worse.
Unfortunately, my prediction is that Mr. Obama will intervene in some way, primarily to save face after his ill advised “red line” comment. Hopefully, he will limit his response to missile strikes and not commit troops. This will likely have a dubious benefit, but it will enable Mr. Obama to spin the situation by saying he took some action. After all, 2014 is an election year.