Hallucinatory Excuses on Syria
New York Times’ David Sanger had an interesting observation in a recent
article on Vladimir Putin’s bizarre foreign policy. Russia, Sanger
wrote, is a “declining economy with the gross domestic product of
Italy.” So how come it manages to push around the United States, which has the
world’s biggest economy and, as President Obama put it just last week, “by a
mile, the greatest military on earth”? Because the United States has, by a
mile, a president who is cautious to the point of timidity and prudent to the
point of appearing heartless.
crisis at the moment is Syria and the siege of Aleppo. The city’s hospitals
have been bombed by so-called “bunker busters.” Other civilian centers have
been targeted. Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations’ undersecretary for
humanitarian affairs, called the “indiscriminate bombing and shelling
. . . a level of savagery that no human should have to endure.”
Syrian government forces, aided by Hezbollah and Iran on the ground and by
Russia in the air, are poised to finish the job. Late last month, a U.N.-organized
humanitarian convoy was bombed by Syrians and Russians or Syrians with
the aid of Russia. The United States retaliated against this hideous outrage by
protesting and, on Monday, suspending
talks with Moscow.
refusal to back up demands for a cease-fire with a threat of force has driven
Secretary of State John F. Kerry to distraction. He
confessed his frustration to some fellow diplomats and his words were
promptly leaked. Kerry now stands, as has been suspected for some time, in
opposition to his president’s policy. But what it has done to Kerry is minor
compared to what it has done to Obama himself. It has led him into hallucinatory
explanations of his decisions. He mangles the facts, jumbles chronology and, in
effect, holds himself guiltless for Syria’sapproximately
500,000 deaths, 8 million internally displaced persons and a tidal wave of
immigrants that has destabilized Europe.
this a situation in which inserting large numbers of U.S. troops will get us a
better outcome?” the president asked last week at a CNN town hall meeting held
at Fort Lee, Va. It’s not a bad question. But here’s a better one: Who ever
suggested such a course? No one of any consequence. Obama’s national security
team once recommended supplying and training the rebels who Obama originally
dismissed as “former farmers or teachers or pharmacists who are now
taking up opposition against a battle-hardened regime.” Obama listened to his
CIA director, his secretary of state, his secretary of defense and the military
brass and said no. End of discussion. Boots on the ground were not recommended.
Fort Lee, the president also accelerated Russian and Iranian involvement in
Syria: “There have been critics of mine that have suggested that, well, if
early enough, you had provided sufficient support to a moderate opposition, they
might have been able to overthrow the murderous Assad regime. The problem with
that is, as we’ve seen, that Assad regime is supported by Russia, it’s
supported by Iran.”
yes, the Syrian regime was always supported by Iran and Russia. But it took a
while for the Iranian proxy Hezbollah and Russia to actually join the fight.
Back when the Syrian civil war started in 2011, Obama could have done something
and, in fact, implied he would do something. “The time has come for President
[Bashar] Assad to step aside,” Obama
declared. Not only did Assad fail to step aside, but his forces later
smeared Obama’s famous “red
line” all over history by using poison gas on civilian centers. By then,
2013, Assad, Putin and other assorted bad guys had taken the measure of Obama:
understand that no one likes to admit failure, especially one that has cost so
many lives. Bill Clinton says he will never forgive himself for not intervening
in the Rwandan genocide. Obama will be similarly stalked.
president still can act. He can back up his secretary of state, impose a
humanitarian corridor and, at the very least, air-drop medical supplies and
food. The United States already has airplanes in the area fighting the Islamic
State. A humanitarian air drop is not a belligerent act and Russia should not
read it that way. Obama can do that because America has the ability to do that,
because America does not stand by and watch innocent people get slaughtered and
because America can tell Russia they both have a moral obligation to save lives.
That is not a red line. It is a bottom line.