The failure of President Obama’s foreign policy is on full display in Syria along with his incompetence. For two years, war in Syria has resulted in at least tens of thousands of deaths, many of them at the hands of the brutal Assad regime. Yet, like in several other missed opportunities during President Obama’s tenure (Iran, Honduras, Egypt), the United States has tried to mostly stay out of the fray. But a year ago, President Obama, going off script, drew a red line at the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.
Whether or not President Obama was bluffing or even meant to draw the red line, he apparently believed that there was something significant about using chemical weapons. Then reports showed that the Assad regime did so use chemical weapons (although there has been some debate about this). This put President Obama in a bad position, being called on his bluff and threatening to make the US look weak if it he nothing.
So the President began to contemplate a military response. The first problem was that polls showed strong opposition to any military action. Then, the British Parliament actually voted against military action in Syria. There would apparently be no international coalition of support as there was with Iraq, for example. So at the eleventh hour of contemplation, likely seeing the polls, President Obama opted to ask Congress for authorization to use force in Syria. But in so doing, he suggested he didn’t need their authorization. This was, quite clearly, an effort to cover and shift blame from the President.
After it became apparent that the administration was struggling to get enough support in Congress for a strike in Syria, the administration set up pitches from officials and political leaders. National Security Advisor Susan Rice gave a speech advocating intervention. On the same day, Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-script comment that Assad could simply turn over his chemical weapons, but that that couldn’t be done. The State Department then downplayed Kerry’s remarks as “rhetorical.” Then Russia made a shrewd move and took advantage, offering to oversee Assad’s transition of chemical weapons.
Russia is demanding that it will only help if the US promises not to use force against Assad. Assad is asking in return that the US abandon arms aid to the Syrian rebels. Assad has also reportedly offered a timeline of turning over the weapons, but Secretary Kerry doesn’t approve of this timeline. Then there is the difficulty of verifying that Syria has turned over its weapons. In other words, this is a win for Russia and Syria, and a loss for the US. Charles Krauthammer explains:
[Putin] cares about power and he cares about keeping Bashar al-Assad in power. Assad is the key link in the anti-Western Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran through Damascus and Beirut to the Mediterranean — on which sits Tartus, Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. This axis frontally challenges the pro-American Sunni Arab Middle East (Jordan, Yemen, the Gulf Arabs, even the North African states), already terrified at the imminent emergence of a nuclear Iran.
At which point the Iran axis and its Russian patron would achieve dominance over the moderate Arab states, allowing Russia to supplant America as regional hegemon for the first time since Egypt switched to our side in the Cold War in 1972.
Why would President Obama take this deal? To save face after boxing himself into a situation he was never prepared to deal with. It’s one thing to find yourself in a situation with only bad choices, but it’s another to discuss a plausible situation (the use of chemical weapons) and not have a plan for dealing with that situation a full year later.
This administration’s foreign policy has failed. There will be no restoration of American stature in the world under this President, only a weaker America with emboldened enemies who know that real power matters more than one’s high opinion of himself.