From the Washington Post, 15 Oct 2012, by
The president’s handling of
Syria, on the other hand, exemplifies every weakness in his foreign policy —
from his excessive faith in “engaging” troublesome foreign leaders to his
insistence on multilateralism as an end in itself to his self-defeating caution
in asserting American power.
The result is not a painful but
isolated setback, but an emerging strategic disaster: a war in the heart of the
Middle East that is steadily spilling over to vital U.S. allies, such as Turkey
and Jordan, and to volatile neighbors, such as Iraq and Lebanon. Al-Qaeda
is far more active in Syria than it is in Libya — while more liberal and secular
forces are turning against the United States because of its failure to help
than 30,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed, and the
toll mounts by the hundreds every day.
...[Obama's] serial miscalculations have had the
consistent if unintended effect of enabling Syria’s Bashar al-Assad — first to
avoid international isolation, then to go on slaughtering his own population
Obama’s Syria policy began in
2009 with the misguided idea of reaching out to the dictator. Within a month of
his inauguration, Obama reversed the Bush administration’s approach of
isolating Assad. He later reopened the U.S. Embassy and dispatched senior
envoys, such as George
The problem with this policy was
not just the distasteful courting of a rogue regime but the willful disregard
of the lessons absorbed by George W. Bush, who also tried reaching out to
Assad, only to learn
the hard way that he was an irredeemable thug. Yet Obama insisted on
reversing Bush’s policy of distancing the United States from strongmen like
Assad and Hosni Mubarak — a monumental miscalculation.
When the uprising against Assad
began in March of last year, the administration’s first reaction was to predict
that he could be induced to coopt it.
“Many . . . believe he’s a reformer,” said Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton.
That illusion caused the administration to stand by for
months while Assad’s security forces gunned down what were then peaceful
pro-democracy marchers; not until August 2011 did Obama
say that Assad should “step aside.”
By then Syria was already tipping
into civil war. The State Department’s Syria experts recognized the peril: If
Assad were not overthrown quickly, they warned in congressional testimony, the country could
tip into a devastating sectarian war that would empower jihadists and spread to
neighboring countries. But Obama
rejected suggestions by several senators that he lead an intervention.
Instead he committed a second major error, by adopting a policy of seeking to
broker a Syrian solution through the United Nations. “The best thing we can
said last March, “is to unify the international community.”
As countless observers correctly
predicted, the subsequent U.N. mission of Kofi Annan was
doomed from the beginning. When the White House could no longer deny that
reality, it turned to an equally fantastical gambit: Vladimir Putin, it
argued, could be persuaded to abandon his support of Assad and force him to
step down. The nadir of this diplomacy may have been reached on June 30, when
predicted that the Kremlin had “decided to get on one horse, and it’s the
horse that would back a transition plan” removing Assad.
Needless to say, Putin did no
such thing. The war went on; thousands more died. For the past three months,
Obama’s policy has become a negative: He is simply opposed to any use of U.S.
power. Fixed on his campaign slogan that “the tide of war is receding” in the
Middle East, Obama claims that intervention would only make the conflict worse
— and then watches as it spreads to NATO ally Turkey and draws in hundreds of
Syria that is Obama’s great[er] failure; it will haunt whomever occupies the
Oval Office next year.