By Bill McGurn
Wall Street Journal
June 17, 2016
A day after CIA Director John
Brennan testified that ISIS now boasts far more fighters than al Qaeda had
at its peak, there’s more disagreement in the Obama ranks. Fifty-one State
Department diplomats have signed a letter that assails President Obama’s Syria
policy—and calls for military strikes and the ouster of dictator Bashar Assad.
This is remarkable. These rebels aren’t the “neocons”
of liberal myth. They are career diplomats whose mission is to pursue the peace
through diplomacy that Mr. Obama invokes as his highest foreign-policy
principle. Yet they are indicting Mr. Obama’s Syrian diplomacy as a strategic
and moral failure.
The 51 signers recognize that American priorities for
Syria—a genuine cease-fire, relief for its suffering citizens and regime
change—have failed because U.S. diplomacy is a wish list with nothing to back
it up. A “judicious” use of military force, they say, would “undergird and
drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic effort.”
The Russians understand this. When Mr. Obama was scrambling
in 2013 for some way not to make good on his red-line threat over Assad’s use
of chemical weapons, Vladimir
Putin offered a face-saving climbdown: Washington and Moscow would work
together to remove the weapons and persuade Assad to negotiate a cease-fire.
Assad never has given up all of his chemical weapons, and
Mr. Putin has since used the opening to play the military card Mr. Obama
wouldn’t. He has used Russian forces to prop up Assad and attack the
regime’s opponents—all the while claiming to want a cease-fire. In Oslo this
week after months of Russian and Syrian deception, Secretary of State John
Kerry declared that “Russia needs to understand that our patience is not
Really? Russia seems to understand Messrs. Obama and Kerry
So Syria burns. Assad’s war on his own countrymen has
left more than 250,000 dead and created millions of refugees. A Pew Research
Center analysis this week says the percentage of the Syrian population displaced
from their homes has reached 60%—“unprecedented,” it says, “in recent
history for a single country.”
The numbers don’t convey the full horror. The city of
Aleppo, home to the greatest resistance to the Assad regime, has been pounded
for months by Russian and Syrian warplanes. Almost every day brings some new
crime: the bombing of a hospital, attacks on women and children, and the Assad
government’s successful efforts to prevent aid convoys of food and medicine
from reaching besieged civilians.
Two decades ago the world stood by as thousands of Bosnian
Muslims were rounded up and killed in Srebrenica. Aleppo is President Obama’s
Srebrenica—not that a fawning press corps has noticed.
Syria’s chaos has also incubated the rise of Islamic
State, set America against its traditional allies, sent refugees pouring into
Europe, invited the Russians back into the region, fed Iran’s influence in a
nervous Arab world and spread instability across the region. But Mr. Obama
carries on with business as usual.
And why should anyone expect anything different? This is
the President who stayed silent in 2009 when Iranians took to the streets to
demand their freedom; who ignored his generals when he withdrew too quickly from
Iraq and Afghanistan; who in 2012 rejected the call from his CIA Director ( David
Petraeus), his Defense Secretary ( Leon
Panetta) and his Secretary of State ( Hillary
Clinton) to arm moderate Syrian rebels. Now add the diplomatic rank and file
to the list of those he ignores.
Two years ago the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford,
resigned because he said he could no longer defend Mr. Obama’s policy. The
only difference between the dissent now and then seems to be that the men and
women at the State Department handling Syria are determined to make clear that
the wreckage the world is witnessing in Syria is Mr. Obama’s handiwork, not
theirs. They understand that Syria didn’t merely “happen” on Mr. Obama’s
watch. It has unfolded so horribly because of the President’s abdication.
Mr. Obama came to office in 2009 scoring George
W. Bush for the high price of his interventions abroad. In the human and
strategic tragedy that is today’s Syria, the world is learning that the
failure to intervene can exact an even higher price.