The only ones who fared worse than President Obama in the Syria debacle are the anti-interventionist right-wingers. By that I do not refer to those who long ago recognized the nub of the problem is Iran and want to go, as the Saudi minister was quoted in the Wikileaks cables, to the head of the snake. Rather, I’m referring to that brand of isolationist that sees no U.S. interests in the goings on Syria, or presumably anywhere else in the Shia orbit which is being swept into the mullahs’ clutches.
The head-in-the-sand crew don’t seem to understand that even if Syria can’t directly strike the United States, we still have an enormous amount at stake should the junior partner of Iran get away with use of WMD’s, emerge victorious with those weapons largely intact and be in a position to funnel them to Hezbollah and other Iranian surrogates. Israel certainly has a vital interest in the outcome (that is why pro-Israel advocates were scrambling last week to try to round up support for a strike).
Perhaps the head-in-the-sand types don’t grasp that we undermine Israel and increase the existential threat to the Jewish state when we hand a victory to those who seek to secure the so-called Shia Crescent and humiliate the West. A senator like Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) pontificates about Iran, but when it comes to votes he acts as if the analysis stops with Syria. Saying one thing and doing another has been the root of Obama’s contradictory Syria stance; ironically his fiercest critics have the same problem.
To say we have no stake in the outcome of the civil war in Syria is just wrong. We care if Syrian President Bashar alAssad remains in power. We care if the small segment of rebels with ties to al-Qaeda prevail. We want neither. The only way to achieve our aim of a government in Syria that would eschew WMD’s and live peacefully with its neighbors (stop sheltering Hezbollah, for example) is to help rout Assad while at the same time bolstering the non-jihadi rebels.
The anti-interventionists made the same mistake Obama did: They opposed small steps early on (e.g. arming the Syrian rebels) before things got much worse (e.g. jihadis entered), making it much more difficult to secure an outcome to our liking. Now they complain the place is rife with jihadis! Well, two years ago it wasn’t.
The Cruz-Mike Lee-Rand Paul crowd then insisted (incorrectly if you understand the separation of powers) that the president come to Congress for authorization for his “limited” action. They worked furiously to get a “no” vote. Paul (R-Ky.) then actually praised the diplomatic “solution” (debunked by the media in less than a day) initially, and then recognized the Russian president had gotten the upper hand with the president.
Don’t get me wrong — the president, as the commander-in-chief, was and is principally responsible for the series of foreign policy flubs. Nevertheless, the head-in-the-sand types enabled and encouraged his irresponsibility, only to condemn the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s scam at the end. And consider their preferred course: We would do nothing after the mass use of WMD’s by the closest ally of Iran. Really? That’s the “smarter” foreign policy?
The consistent advocates of defeating Iran’s surrogate Assad would have acted earlier to aid the rebels before jihadis infiltrated Syria. (Even before that they would have avoided the 18 months of courting Assad, which signaled weakness, begun a diplomatic full-court press and worked to shake loose the Alawite allies of Assad.)
Later, the anti-Assad interventionists urged that we develop relationships with the non-jihadis, providing assistance and intelligence and if need be a no-fly zone to slow the body count that now is over 100,000. And until the Russia debacle, they pushed the president to strike Assad hard enough to tip the balance away from the regime, seriously assist the non-jihadis and organize Syria’s neighbors who have a stake in the defeat of Iran/Syria. At no time did they ever advocate “boots on the ground.”
Maybe it would have worked and maybe it wouldn’t. But the interventionists’ strategy would have given the United States multiple opportunities to secure an outcome to our liking before WMD’s were used and before jihadis made the situation so problematic. They recognized we do have an interest in the defeat of Iranian surrogates and the retribution/deterrence of WMD use. Their actions would have been in furtherance of our national interests, which include looking out for our allies (e.g. Jordan, Israel).
Obama, it has been said, is playing checkers while Putin plays chess. The answer is not to substitute for Obama the people who can’t figure out there is even a match going on. What we need are foreign policy architects who can recognize our interests, lay out means for attaining them and prevent the choices we now face in Syria. Reasonable minds can differ on whether that means going directly to the head of the snake in Tehran or dealing a death blow to Iran’s closest ally; pretending Syria has nothing to do with Iran or U.S. interests is in a class by itself when it comes to shortsighted foreign policy.