Philosophers who ponder big questions have been known to ask why there is something rather than nothing. One does not have an easy answer for that question, but one does know that we are not going to find it by running a scientific experiment.
Let’s modify the question and ask: What is the difference—in terms of moral responsibility-- between doing something and doing nothing. Have you noticed that it is easier to hold someone responsible for what he has done than to hold him responsible for having done nothing.
Within limits, of course. If you see a child drowning in a lake, you might be held accountable if you do nothing, but your responsibility will be far greater if you are the lifeguard on duty or the child’s parent. In those cases you will have been derelict in your duty.
Today’s topic is the chaos that has descended on Syria, plus the consequences that the Syrian debacle—mixed with the disaster that is today’s Iraq—has produced in Europe. And the issue is: who is at fault for the mess? Who is responsible for the cataclysm?
Liberal Democrats hold the Bush administration responsible for everything that is happening in Iraq. By extension, they hold the Bush administration responsible for everything that is happening in Syria.
It has nothing to do with the facts. In 2010 Vice President Joe Biden declared Iraq a great foreign policy success of the Obama administration. In 2011 President Obama declared victory in Iraq, declared the situation to be stable and under control. He left the country and washed his hands of all responsibility.
Some consider ISIS in Iraq to be Obama’s problem, but they are probably not a majority. Surely, Obama considers that what is happening in Iraq is George Bush’s fault. Having opposed the Iraq War, Obama can allow Iraq to deteriorate and declare that he was right all along. If Iraq had become a peaceful prosperous state, Obama would have looked bad… and we can’t have that.
And then there is Syria. By failing to act, the Obama administration bears a considerable responsibility for the catastrophe in Syria… and its extension into Iraq. And yet, only American conservatives dare to think this.
Writing in the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt explains that the Obama administration had succeeded in walking making itself and America blameless for what is happening in Syria:
This may be the most surprising of President Obama’s foreign-policy legacies: not just that he presided over a humanitarian and cultural disaster of epochal proportions, but that he soothed the American people into feeling no responsibility for the tragedy.
… Obama — who ran for president on the promise of restoring the United States’ moral stature — has constantly reassured Americans that doing nothing is the smart and moral policy. He has argued, at times, that there was nothing the United States could do, belittling the Syrian opposition as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth.”
Obama stood by and did nothing:
Perversely, the worse Syria became, the more justified the president seemed for staying aloof; steps that might have helped in 2012 seemed ineffectual by 2013, and actions that could have saved lives in 2013 would not have been up to the challenge presented by 2014. The fact that the woman who wrote the book on genocide, Samantha Power, and the woman who campaigned to bomb Sudan to save the people of Darfur, Susan Rice, could apparently in good conscience stay on as U.N. ambassador and national security adviser, respectively, lent further moral credibility to U.S. abdication.
One might ask who was running policy? One suspects that Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Valerie Jarrett had the president’s ear. Shakespeare might have called them the “weird sisters” but the theories of the first two regarding our duty to stop genocide seem to have run aground when it came to dealing with Syria.
The reason, no doubt, was that getting into Syria would have involved getting into a war. And the weird sisters, for whatever reason, hate war. They like cheap, easy humanitarian intervention where they can show off their superior capacity for empathy. When it comes to a real fight, they and the president they work for have chickened out.
Hiatt makes an important point, one that deserves emphasis. It’s not merely that the Obama administration was “too proud to fight,” but that it convinced America that weakness and cowardice put it on the moral high ground. It is the triumph of squeamishness. We don’t care what happens as long as our hands are clean. See the debates over torturing terrorists.
Also writing in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson has taken the measure of the Obama conduct of Syria policy:
For four years, the Obama administration has engaged in what Frederic Hof, former special adviser for transition in Syria, calls a “pantomime of outrage.” Four years of strongly worded protests, and urgent meetings and calls for negotiation — the whole drama a sickening substitute for useful action. People talking and talking to drown out the voice of their own conscience. And blaming. In 2013, President Obama lectured the U.N. Security Council for having “demonstrated no inclination to act at all.” Psychological projection on a global stage.
Gerson notes that many administration officials wanted to intervene more forcefully. Among them Hillary Clinton. Gerson does not mention it, but if Clinton, Panetta and Petraeus were overruled, then whose advice was Obama taking? He must have allowed himself to be influenced by the weird sisters:
This was not some humanitarian problem distant from the center of U.S. interests. It was a crisis at the heart of the Middle East that produced a vacuum of sovereignty that has attracted and empowered some of the worst people in the world. Inaction was a conscious, determined choice on the part of the Obama White House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and CIA Director David Petraeus advocated arming favorable proxies. Sunni friends and allies in the region asked, then begged, for U.S. leadership. All were overruled or ignored.
Gerson is right to say that “Syria has become the graveyard of U.S. credibility. When you elect a clown to the presidency, you get jokes, not policy. Better yet, you become a joke:
In the process, Syria has become the graveyard of U.S. credibility. The chemical weapons “red line.” “The tide of war is receding.” “Don’t do stupid [stuff].” These are global punch lines. “The analogy we use around here sometimes,” said Obama of the Islamic State, “and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” Now the goal to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State looks unachievable with the current strategy and resources. “The time has come for President Assad to step aside,” said Obama in 2011. Yet Assad will likely outlast Obama in power.
Is there method in the madness? The only possible explanation lies in Obama’s lust for a nuclear deal with Iran:
What explains Obama’s high tolerance for humiliation and mass atrocities in Syria? The Syrian regime is Iran’s proxy, propped up by billions of dollars each year. And Obama wanted nothing to interfere with the prospects for a nuclear deal with Iran. He was, as Hof has said, “reluctant to offendthe Iranians at this critical juncture.” So the effective concession of Syria as an Iranian zone of influence is just one more cost of the president’s legacy nuclear agreement.
Now the Iran deal has put America on the side of the mullahs. It has provided financing for Iran’s campaign of terror against America, Israel and the West. And it will result in Iran’s getting nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles needed to deliver them. As long as Obama is not president when it all falls apart, he and his apologists will naturally blame the man or woman who is. If that person is a Democrat, they will blame the Republican Congress, the Tea Party or George Bush.
In effect, it is unthinkable that an American president would conduct policy to sustain those who wish to destroy America. And yet, we are talking about Jeremiah Wright’s protégé… so why should that not be one of the options?
We are not of course talking about whether Obama’s hearts beats out the rhythm of our national anthem, but whether his conduct of foreign policy serves the interests of America or Iran?
Of course, Obama will not be around to see the destruction that his policies will eventually cause in America and Israel. But he is around to watch the chaos that is being visited on Europe by the current refugee crisis.
Yet, in an Obamified world one’s moral sense is addled. People around Europe are wringing their hands about the refugee crisis and asking how they can do more to help the poor suffering people from the Middle East and Africa. But, they are not thinking about what military action they can take in order to bring order to Syria and Iraq.