Syrian Paradoxes

Everything about Syria is a paradox. Obama came into office with the idea that Syria would be one of the jewels in his Bush “reset” crown. So we naively re-opened the Damascus embassy; Hillary in surreal fashion declared the thuggish Bashar Assad a “reformer”; and the Western press in lapdog fashion discovered his supposedly Voguish wife. In this messianic spirit, we were to assume that all Assad’s recent evil—the assassination of Hariri, the subversion of Lebanon, the alliance with Hezbollah, the sly attempt to go nuclear, the facilitation of jihadists into Iraq—were simply responses to Bush provocations. But now what? Suddenly, we are resetting reset and now back to the Bush policy of 2008? And we learned exactly what from 2009-12?

Second, the Obama Doctrine, as I understand it from Libya, is to bypass Congress in its use of force and instead seek authorization from the U.N. But we subverted the U.N. resolution in Libya, vastly exceeding “no-fly-zones” and “humanitarian aid” through bombing Gaddafi’s forces — in direct air support for the rebels — in order to win the war. The result is that China and Russia will not get snookered again on a U.N. Syrian or Iranian authorization; and perhaps our Congress won’t either.

Third, due to the costs and the demonization of Iraq from 2005 onward, the use of ground troops is now taboo. But unfortunately, the history of US intervention is clear: put boots on the ground and it gets messy, but you have a say in the postbellum government; just bomb and it is less messy, but you have zero say in what follows—as Libya reminds us. There was a reason why after bombing Milosevic out of power, we inserted ground troops.  Thus Serbia (and Iraq, for that matter) is not now quite Libya. Ridding the world of the Assad carcass is easy; ensuring that something like him, or worse still, does not take over is terribly hard.

Fourth, the politics are Orwellian. Obama et al., between 2006-8 mocked the Bush ‘freedom’ agenda of trying to promote consensual government, as if it were little more than ethnocentric neocon triumphalism. But now we are to give up on their idea that an Assad or Ahmadinejad is an authentic “other” who, to be properly understood, requires the sensitive diplomatic skills of a post-national Barack Obama? A lot of those who now would support action to remove the odious Assad or to preempt the madcap dreams of Ahmadinejad cannot quite believe that yesterday’s critic of US intervention as inherently improper is today’s humanitarian interventionist.  In 2008, declaring the surge a failure or requiring a suspension of disbelief was patriotic dissent; in 2012, critiquing Obama’s serial apologizing is dangerous factionalism during a time of war? They have to figure it out before we can.

Fifth, in a sane world, the removal of Saddam would have been recognized as a necessary, but dangerous gambit, ridding the world of the Middle East’s strongest, most dangerous and most genocidal monster, without whom change in the region at last might be possible—as we saw with the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, the surrender of the Libyan WMD, the lectures to Mubarak by Secretary Rice,  the house arrest of Dr. Khan, and perhaps even the present unrest. But those in the present administration did not see it that way, and in fact made our effort more difficult with unnecessarily partisan criticism. So now no one knows quite what this erstwhile war-critic, reset, outreach bunch is doing by kinda, sorta leading from behind in Libya, and praising/demonizing Assad. 

Where does this all get us? The fact is that leftist laureate Obama has all sorts of advantages and choices that were impossible between 2001-2009: the American Left, the once-critical press, the sanctimonious Europeans, and the Arab world all will keep mum should Obama bomb Assad, arm the rebels or put peacekeeping forces there. It is his call and  a far easier one than Iraq. And conservatives? We are mostly Jacksonians, who rally around the U.S. once the bullets start flying, but otherwise are so confused about Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s Middle Eastern views as expressed between 2006-2012 that we are going to keep quiet and let them sort it out until they get their stories straight.

  1. Valiuth

    They will never get their stories straight because they need to both be multicultural pacifists to appeal to the radical elements of their base, but they can’t let the US be threatened lest the overwhelming public vote them out of office for fear of our lives. They have very little in the way of honor or principles on these issues aside from making sure they can be domestically elected…

    For better or for worse Bush had a vision of foreign policy not linked to his desire for re-election. 

  2. Stuart Creque

    One would think that after his lead-from-behind approach eventually succeeded in protecting Benghazi, “a city the size of Charlotte,” from invasion by regime forces, Obama would have moved swiftly to save Homs, a city the size of Charlotte, from exactly the fate he forecasted for Benghazi. The paradox is that Libyan lives were precious because intervention there was cheap, and because intervention in Syria would be much costlier, Obama sells Syrian lives cheaply.

  3. Mel Foil

    It sort of reminds me of Cambodia in the Pol Pot era. The Left was not too interested in Southeast Asia anymore at that point. Very strange, since a few years before, Southeast Asia was all the Left talked about.

  4. Steven Zoraster

    I am not confused.

    1) They hate us. They being Islamic extremists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Yemen……

    2) We must leave. Tomorrow if not today.

    3) We should invest as much as possible in domestic oil and gas production.

    4) More domestic nuclear power

    End results:   Arabs back to riding camels instead of living high off the money we pay them for oil.  And the Afghans walking instead of living high off the money we currently spend in their nasty country.

    Downside for Afghanistan?  They will not be able to afford as much ammunition and might again learn to shoot straight.  Still, if the only people to shoot are their neighbors….

  5. flownover

    Pol Pot, now there’s a sweet memory of American involvement.

    We have to consider Lebanon, Hezbollah and the real devil- Iran. 

    We know that Assad is unloved, and his absence yearned for. But what will Iran’s play be ? Are we going to see Nasrallah in charge there ? 

    This Arab spring is alot like an Arkansas spring, plenty of tornadoes.

  6. Nick Stuart

    Why would the administration feel a need to get its story straight? Who’s going to call them on it?War is peace, love is hate, etc.

  7. Michael Pate

    It’s funny how many articles written shortly after the election like Obama—who won 78% of Jewish vote—faces global disarray, Mideast challenges and Syria-Israel negotiations: reality and prospects and Obamamania in Damascus were all about how that once Obama was in the White House and not that cowboy that Syria, Israel and the United States were surely going to be the best of friends.

  8. Stuart Creque
    ~Paules: The U.S. doesn’t have any good options.  Given Obama’s lack of decisiveness, we’re likely to get sucked in without a proactive policy.  Our response will be largely reactive depending on how the Iranians choose to fight this war.  If the mullahs chose to close the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. won’t have a choice.  We’ll be in it whether we like it or not.  And just in time for an election. 

    I agree that Iran will try everything it can to keep its supply lines to Hezbollah open.  The use-it-or-lose-it aspect becomes even more frightening if Iran forces Syria to transfer its chemweapons to Hezbollah.

    I doubt the Iranians will close the Strait of Hormuz… unless they come under attack from Israel, at which point the desperation move of closing the Strait becomes thinkable.  It might even work: given the choice of going to war with Iran to reopen the Strait or leaning heavily on Israel to stand down, which one do you think President Obama will pick?

  9. Stuart Creque

    Assad seems ready to annihilate the entire population of Homs, like his Daddy did to Hama in 1982:

    Elite troops backed by tanks massed round the Syrian protest city of Homs on Wednesday as Washington worked on a UN Security Council draft resolution demanding humanitarian access to trapped civilians.

    And the Obama Administration is getting the popcorn ready for the CNN viewing party.

    The White House said that Al-Qaeda’s efforts to take advantage of violence in Syria meant it was no time to send arms to Assad’s opponents as advocated by Saudi Arabia at the Friends of Syria meeting.

    “Now is not the time to further militarise the situation in Syria,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

    “Without getting into assessments of our intelligence capabilities, I would simply say that we are aware of the fact that Al-Qaeda and other extremists are seeking to take advantage of the situation created by Assad’s brutal assault on the opposition,” he said.

    Al-Qaeda is actually far less a threat in Syria than it was in Libya.  And it seems to me the situation in Syria is pretty thoroughly militarized — but only on the side of the tyrant.

  10. Aaron Miller

    Start from the premise that Obama is an inveterate liar and try again.

  11. Brownbat

    Here’s a whole post devoted to proving that Obama and Co said one thing and are now doing another.  That’s rather a minor indictment, isn’t it? I mean, given that we already know that most politicians are opportunists and scallywags, with a big gap between words and deeds?  It might be more interesting and useful to try and figure what is actually happening in Syria and what if anything we ought to be doing, which is a much harder problem.

  12. flownover

    Well then Aaron he must feel amazingly comfortable within his milieu.Takes one to know one ? Not alot of interest in the truth here. Will we be left with the real possibility of Nasrallah ascendant ?

  13. Steve MacDonald

    I remember some years ago, some articles from VDH that essentially said that, at some point in time the USA will answer aggression with devastating air bombardment – viewing it a waste of time to expend lives and treasure yet again to give a people the opportunity to grasp freedom……..given that the probable outcome is condemnation and rejection.

    Apologies if my summary is poorly done – but I think we are at the doorstep of that time. I know that I would not be for putting one boot on the ground in either Syria or Iran – other than for bomb guidance and other special ops. If an Assad like problem arises from the ashes, we at least have peace for a while.

  14. ctlaw
    ~Paules: It seems to me that Hezbollah is the wildcard in the deck.  How does their position in southern Lebanon change if Assad falls?  Can they maintain their logistic support from Iran without a friendly regime in Syria?  Will Hezbollah suddenly be faced with a use it or lose it option regarding their strike capability against Israel?

    Perhaps. However. Hezbollah will not necessarily see its capability deteriorate if deprived of Assad rule in Syria. Hezbollah’s missiles will still be there and Iran can financially support it (to keep the terrorists fed and clothed) without Syria.

    As for supply to further build its arsenal, will the world be willing to let Iran supply Hezbollah through Lebanese ports? The ability to use a Syrian port has allowed Hezbollah to not play its hand regarding its control over Lebanon.

    Hezbollah probably will be in a position to retain its Syrian depots.

    Hezbollah may be emboldened with new capabilities via looting of Syrian WMD. also, it may gain plausible deniability if Hezbollah launches attacks from Syria (an ironic reversal from the historic view of Hezbollah as the proxy). This is not technically use-it-or-lose-it.

  15. The Mugwump

    It seems to me that Hezbollah is the wildcard in the deck.  How does their position in southern Lebanon change if Assad falls?  Can they maintain their logistic support from Iran without a friendly regime in Syria?  Will Hezbollah suddenly be faced with a use it or lose it option regarding their strike capability against Israel?

    It seems to me that we stand on the brink of a major conflagration.  Iran can’t afford to lose its only front-line proxy against Israel, especially with war between the two states likely to break out any day.  Iran will be forced to support Assad to the bitter end.  That’s going to mean a protracted civil war and more bloodshed.

    The U.S. doesn’t have any good options.  Given Obama’s lack of decisiveness, we’re likely to get sucked in without a proactive policy.  Our response will be largely reactive depending on how the Iranians choose to fight this war.  If the mullahs chose to close the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. won’t have a choice.  We’ll be in it whether we like it or not.  And just in time for an election.          

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