President Obama leaves office on a wave of good feeling. Many people miss him already.
His administration has a spokesman who can present his case with uncommon eloquence. If it sounds true, if it sounds as though he believes what he is saying, many people are happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. Thus, a majority of Americans approves of the job he did.
Now, writing in The Guardian, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, has laid out the case against Obama. He argues that Obama’s failure in Syria will haunt the world for decades to come. One notes that your humble blogger has often mentioned Obama’s failure in Syria.
Ahmad explains it well, and besides, he is writing in the Guardian, Great Britain’s most left-leaning daily newspaper. He has also written for The Nation. His analysis is not coming from the fever swamps of the radical right!
I will offer some excerpts without too much commentary.
Ahmad opens thusly:
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic magazine earlier this year, President Obama said he was “very proud” of the moment in 2013 when, against the “overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom”, he decided not to honour his own “red line”, allowing Assad to escape accountability for a chemical attack that had killed more than 1,400 civilians.
Obama may be alone in this judgment. A year earlier, seemingly on a whim, he had set a red line on the use of chemical weapons at a time when none were being used. The red line was, in effect, a green light to conventional killing. But the regime called Obama’s bluff – and, predictably, he backed down. No longer fearing punishment, the regime escalated its tactics.
What were the results when Obama backed down?
Nearly four times as many people were killed in the two years after the chemical attack as had died in the two years before. Obama’s abandonment discredited Syria’s nationalist opposition and empowered the Islamists. It helped Isis emerge from the shadows to establish itself as a major force. Together, these developments triggered a mass exodus that would displace over half the country’s population. And as the overflow from this deluge started trickling into Europe, it sparked a xenophobic backlash that has empowered the far right across the west.
The inaction also created a vacuum that was filled by Iran and Russia. Emboldened by his unopposed advances into Ukraine and Syria, Putin has been probing weaknesses in the west’s military and political resolve – from provocative flights by Bear bombers along the Cornwall coast to direct interference in the US elections.
Why did Obama fail? Ahmad explains that he wanted to make a deal with Iran and did not care about the cost:
The administration had gambled its reputation on the Iran deal – a deal whose success would distinguish Obama from his belligerent and quixotic predecessor. Iranian leaders, however, understood that by investing his legacy in the deal, Obama had also made himself its hostage. He couldn’t make too many demands for fear of undoing his own legacy. Conscious of this, Iranian hardliners saw no cause for constraint. Flush with cash from the deal, they have embarked on a foreign policy far more intransigent than anything Iran has pursued in a century. Tehran has little need for nuclear weapons when it can conquer Aleppo without them. And, as a client of Iran, Assad has enjoyed impunity.
As for Aleppo, Ahmad writes its epitaph:
Aleppo fell on Obama’s watch. He did not raise a finger to save the city even though he had mobilised America’s vast military assets on short notice to defend Kobani and imposed a no-fly zone over Hasakah. By withholding leverage, Obama also allowed Russia to use the charade of diplomacy to aid Iran and the regime’s military conquest.
In January, as Obama surrenders the White House to America’s own strongman, the Iran deal will probably not survive long. Its benefits were already made doubtful by Obama’s invertebracy. It is Aleppo that the world will remember him by.
True enough, Obama kept us out of war. It will not be a consolation to the people of Aleppo, the people of Syria, the people of Iraq or the people of Europe.