September 17, 2013

Long before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began using chemical weapons on his own people, President Obama grudgingly declared the Syrian dictator must go. Obama did little to bring that about, but surely no one in the administration by mid-2011 was still saying he was a “reformer.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama during the G20 summit. (Guneev Sergey/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama during the G20 summit. (Guneev Sergey/Getty Images)

Assad’s murders topped 100,000, and he attacked innocents with chemical weapons, prompting the president to shift ever so slightly. I suppose in theory we wanted Assad to go, but in his Sept. 10 speech Obama refused to say our military action would be aimed at hastening his departure. All he would say was that our limited (but not “pinprick”) military action would be aimed at “deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.” It was left vague whether “capabilities” referred only to his chemical weapons capabilities.

However, with the Russia-Syria gambit plowing full speed ahead, the administration now envisions that the current government of Syria will made good on promises to destroy or turn over its weapons in the next year. Assad must now, it appears, stay. As former Defense Department official Doug Feith puts it, chemical weapons can be used to kill opponents and then “be traded away at a very high price under the right circumstances. They can serve as a lifesaver for a dictator on the skids. Clever dictators will realize that they can barter their chemical-weapons arsenals to buy time to crush an insurrection and then rebuild the arsenal after the population has been pacified.”

Cynics will say Obama has always preferred the rule of tyrants to the messy business of popular revolts. He placed his bet with the mullahs not with the Green Revolution. He backed Hosni Mubarak to the bitter end in Egypt, then Mohamed Morsi and then the army. Might makes right for this U.S. president. And likewise in Syria, Obama was convinced for years that Assad was a man with whom he could do business and actually rely upon to play a useful part in the “peace process.” Even with Honduras during his first term Obama sided with Hugo Chavez’s puppet Manuel Zelaya over the middle class revolt (supported by the Church, jurists and business leaders) aimed at stopping Zelaya’s power grab.

Ironically, the former community organizer has never been favorably disposed to those organizing for their own freedom. At most, he’ll toss a rhetorical bone. But he’d much prefer paper thin agreements with Russia, phony chemical weapons deals with Syria and, we can expect, just about any pact with the mullahs that would stave off the need to disarm the Iranian government by force. His goal, he keeps telling us, is to end wars. The easiest way to accomplish this is to accede to tyrants.

The preference for the oppressors over the oppressed is not merely morally abhorrent, but flawed strategically. While we hold out hope for a deal with Iran, the centrifuges multiplied and spun faster. While we stood at arm’s length from the Syrian Free Army, a hundred thousand died, Jordan was shaken by an outpouring of refugees and Iran and Hezbollah fighters physically joined the fight, setting up a victory for Tehran if Assad survives. Egypt is destabilized and rife with anti-Americanism while its newest autocrats show a remarkable similarity to Mubarak, complete with emergency decrees.

You would think Obama would learn by now that despots are neither stable nor inclined to make enforceable deals with the West. The longer they remain (Obama as well, come to think of it) the worse things get for oppressed peoples and neighboring countries.

We now have a special relationship, weirdly enough, not with Britain but with Russia, Syria and, one fears, Iran. This president is dependent, to one extent or another, on all of these rogue states to go along with a deadly charade. They stay in power. We don’t comment much on their internal repression. They amass whatever weapons they see fit. We look the other way so long as they refrain from overt provocations that would force us, due to public pressure or allies’ pleading, to do something.

In essence, Obama has decided that if you can’t beat the despots, you might as well join ‘em. It’s all self-delusion, of course. Historically these bargains with the devil have a poor track record. Eventually the despots act out; then America is forced to confront these powers, but long after they’ve gained military and diplomatic advantages. And in the meantime thousands upon thousands of innocents suffer or die, and America’s moral standing is eroded. (It is peculiar that Obama should think that closing the prison at Guantanamo but not dealing with a mass murderer is essential to uphold “our values”.)

This, after all, is the logical endpoint of a policy designed to avoid conflict (“end wars”) rather than defend American values and interests.

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