September 16, 2013
Kerry makes the case for action in Syria
Secretary of State John F. Kerry (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)

To watch the relief with which the president and both parties in Congress greeted a chemical weapons disarmament agreement brokered by Russia — which will invariably not be complied with, cannot be properly verified and, in any event, allows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power without the threat of U.S. military action — is to appreciate the dearth of sober leadership on foreign policy.

Wasn’t our policy that “Assad must go”? However, aside from repeating that empty phrase, there is no sign the United States is taking sufficient action to tip the battlefield in favor of the non-jihadi terrorists.

Wasn’t military action needed to make an example of Assad and discourage any other power from using weapons of mass destruction? Now the lesson is that despots can use them repeatedly, remain in power and string out disarmament.

Wasn’t our position that Assad’s departure was essential to stability of the region? But, as a disgusted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) put it on Sunday: “We’re going to see the Russians facilitating the departure of chemical weapons while plane load after plane load of Russian aircraft [will be] coming into Damascus full of weapons and devices to kill Syrians.”

Lawmakers are kidding themselves if they think military action remains an option. To do what? The president will tell us the weapons of mass destruction are being dealt with. To make good on our promise to punish Assad and to accelerate his departure? Neither the president nor Congress is the least bit inclined to do either.

Brit Hume nicely summed up the head-in-the-sand situation the president has adopted:

I think the practical difficulties of finding the weapons, identifying them, cataloging them and removing them in the midst of conflict with a couple of — with an untrustworthy player like Assad in place are probably insurmountable.

But what this does, though, is defuses the issue. It takes all the urgency out of it. It takes the air out of it. And as time goes on, it recedes into the background, which is exactly in my view is exactly what the president is hoping will happen.

The president has made avoiding war his highest priority. That’s an admirable goal in a world without aggressive, evil regimes. But on the global stage, advertising one’s determination to use any device (even a phony deal with a tyrant) to avoid protecting our interests and values is to open the door to a parade of Middle East horribles (e.g. use of weapons of mass destruction, mass atrocities, expansion of Iranian access, collapse of neighboring regimes). David Gergen, hardly a conservative hawk, is candid enough to admit what politicians will not: “Assad is a butcher and Putin is a thug. And we’re going to depend on their good faith? Beyond that, there’s a question of how toothless this deal is.”

What we are left with is our own self-delusion and encouragement to nations that threaten our interests (e.g. Syria, Iran, Russia, North Korea). If aggression and provocation do not cost them, they will be more aggressive and provoke more frequently.

With regard to Iran, we’ve advertised to mullahs that all we need is a phony, unenforceable agreement on weapons of mass destruction — and in fact, that we are desperate for a phony agreement to relieve us of the necessity of acting. Aside from the irresponsibility of leaving Iran with a nuclear weapons capability, we thereby leave the Iranian people and Iran’s neighbors to fend for themselves. State-sponsored terrorism, domestic repression and arming Hezbollah and Hamas are not things that will spur us or even concern us beyond empty platitudes.

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Israel to assure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Syria isn’t an indicator of what the United States will do on Iran. But of course it is precisely that. If the president has no stomach for an “unbelievably small” strike against the likes of Assad, is there any reasonable chance he’ll launch a major operation against Iran? There likely isn’t a single Israeli official, and certainly no Iranian ones, who fails to grasp that the president would tie himself up in knots trying to avoid a military strike, even though he’s promised again and again a nuclear-armed Iran would be “unacceptable.”

Obama blithely declared on Sunday, “My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck [Syria] to think we won’t strike Iran.” Maybe that’s Obama’s self-delusion talking, but no one else is buying it.

It is ironic that a number of Obama foreign affairs advisers (e.g. Susan Rice, Samantha Power) cut their policy teeth on (not) dealing with the Rwanda genocide and swore it would never happen again. Through the same passivity they retroactively condemned in the Clinton administration, another mass murder is taking place on their watch. What is more, they’re trying to sell a deal where a central feature is that the mass murderer remains in power for the foreseeable future. I could not agree more with Sebastian Junger who writes in The Post today, “At some point, pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death, and isolationism becomes a form of genocide. It’s not a matter of how we’re going to explain this to the Syrians. It’s a matter of how we’re going to explain this to our kids.”

When the results of this reality-averse foreign policy later prove not to be to our liking (ongoing mass murder, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a broader Middle East war, the collapse of Jordan), there will be no one but our own political leaders to blame — and, yes, public indifference as well. The price of moral abdication and strategic blundering will, I fear, be high.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.