The situation in Syria is dire. The Post reports: “Government loyalists lashed out in revenge on the streets of Damascus on Wednesday after a bombing that killed three senior military figures brought the bloodshed that has engulfed Syria to the heart of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.” As usual, we get blindingly obvious pronouncements from the administration and no articulated policy:
In Washington, U.S. officials said the attack offered a clear sign of the Assad regime’s vulnerability. But they expressed anxiety about the potential for increased chaos as the rebels try to press their advantage and the regime seeks to reassert its authority.
“This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said at a Pentagon news briefing.
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams writes:
What the administration wants, it has seemed for all 17 months of the Syrian revolt, is to hide behind the U.N. and Kofi Annan. The apparent success of outside aid, which has quickly made the opposition far more effective, shows that it should have been provided far sooner: regime collapse could have been induced far sooner and thousands of lives saved. Picking up the pieces in Syria will be a great deal harder because of the scope of the killings there over 17 months.
Moreover, the United States is nowhere to be seen. The Syrian people may turn to other patrons, but the lack of involvement by the United States will make relations with whatever regime follows Bashar al-Assad that much more difficult.
Abrams warns that “Assad might in extremis conceivably try to use chemical weapons against the populace. If he does, the United States should organize a group of nations, including the Arab League, Turkey, the UK, and France, to intervene militarily from the air as we did in Libya, and help the rebels win quickly.” Moreover, he cautions that “there is no sensible reason to make deals now with Russia that guarantee its access to a naval base in Syria or a role in Syria’s future. Most Syrians hate Russia for its role in defending the regime and supplying it with the weapons it has turned against the people.”
Michael Young of the Lebanon Daily Star reiterates how poorly positioned the United States is. He explains:
It is astonishing that at such a crucial stage in the Arab world, Washington is doing little hard thinking. Obama has written himself out of the script, a distant apparition alien to the peoples of the Middle East. But the region remains critical, no matter what the president believes, and it can still bite the world in the rear end. When that happens, the Americans cannot afford to lead from behind. They need to be up front, knowing precisely what they want.
Perhaps everything will fall neatly into place, the Syrian people’s torment will end, Assad will go swiftly, Russia won’t get its mitts into the new regime, Iran will take a body blow and a more peaceful, pro-Western regime will come into place. But there is nothing the Obama administration is doing to make those outcomes more likely. We are entirely at the mercy of outside event and other powers. This is what comes from a president increasingly subordinating all policy to his election and who, quite candidly, doesn’t have the know-how or finesse to work through delicate and critical policy decisions.