Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Syria, Seriously

The count: 100,000 people dead. 2,000,000 refugees. 4,500,000 displaced from their homes.

Such is Syria today. Reported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it has been called “the greatest tragedy of the century.”

The Daily Mail has the story and the frightening pictures. The situation in Syria has deteriorated to the point where no possible outcome will look good.

But, don’t worry, the world is in the best of hands.

Now, in what Charles Rangel said was “unheard of” President Obama is going to be spurred into action because he has gotten caught in his own rhetoric.

Or better, he yielded to pressure by a faction within his administration that believes America has a moral responsibility to punish genocide.

George Friedman explains:

This time, with major foreign partners demanding action, the president felt he had no choice. A significant faction pressed him on this in his foreign policy apparatus. There were those, like National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who favored the use of military force in the events of war crimes and human rights violations on a major scale. One would have thought that she would have supported the war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the epitome of war crimes and human rights violations, but she didn't, and that's another matter. The point is that, leaving Iraq, this faction felt that the United States failed to carry out its moral obligations in Rwanda, and applauded the intervention in Kosovo.

Many foreign policy gurus now believe that if Obama fails to act America’s credibility will be significantly diminished.

Eliot Cohen made the argument this morning in the Wall Street Journal:

For better or for worse, the credibility not only of this president, but of America as a global power and a guarantor of international order, is on the line. If the U.S.—after its president said two years ago that Assad must go and then, a year later, drew a red line at Syria's use of chemical weapons—now does nothing, profound conclusions will be drawn by a China ready to bully its neighbors, by a North Korea whose scruples are already minimal, and by an Iran that has already killed many Americans in a covert war waged against us in Iraq and Afghanistan.

America's friends will realize that its word means nothing. As a result, they will either abandon us, or arm themselves with nuclear weapons. And these countries will be increasingly willing to wield them in a world in which they have no great ally who may be counted upon to stand by them in an hour of need.

Cohen knows that we have gotten to this pass because we have an “inept and inconstant president.” And yet, he wants to grant more authority to an “inept and inconstant president.”

Besides, what makes him think that American credibility has not already been completely compromised?

Obama has been blustering about Syria for over two years now. He has done nothing to back up his rhetoric. Do you believe that he can restore his and the nation’s credibility by a few days bombing the Assad regime? How will Obama and America look if the casualties include a large number of human shields?

Nothing about administration policy seems to have changed. The proposed bombings look more like posturing than policy. The administration continues to show the world that it has no idea what it is doing in Syria.

The whole world knows it.

In fact, Max Boot points out, Obama’s decision to ask for Congressional authorization while saying that he does not need it, damaged whatever credibility he had left:

It is hard to exaggerate the damage to American standing and credibility in the world that President Obama did with his about-face on Syria: In the space of a few hours on Friday he went from signaling that military strikes on Syria were imminent after pro forma “consultations” with Congress to deciding that he would ask Congress to approve the strikes, even though he admitted that such authorization was not needed for him to act.

Why did he do it? Kimberly Strassel suggests that it’s all about politics. While Republicans are fretting about credibility and national security, the president has been shifting the blame on to Republicans. Never let it be said that he is not very, very good at this.

It may be lose/lose on the world stage. It looks like it’s going to be lose/lose in Syria. But, Obama might well make it win/win on the American political scene.

Strassel writes:

Americans do not want to think that the president is making grave decisions about military action and U.S. standing on the basis of political calculation. Yet Mr. Obama has treated Syria as a political problem from the start, viewing it almost solely as a liability to the administration's public-opinion polling, its presidential electioneering and its rival domestic priorities. Viewing Mr. Obama's punt to Congress as anything but political is almost impossible. And yet the president again lectures Congress to rise above the "partisan" politics that he has, with great calculation, dumped on them.

Strassel calls it pure cynicism:

The commander in chief is in a box. His desperation to avoid military entanglement in Syria last year—in the run-up to the presidential election—inspired Mr. Obama to fumble out his "red line" warning to Bashar Assad on chemical-weapons use. The statement was a green light to the dictator to commit every atrocity up to that line and—when he received no pushback—to cross it.

Now trapped by his own declaration, Mr. Obama is reverting to the same strategy he has used in countless domestic brawls—that is, to lay responsibility for any action, or failure of action, on Congress. The decision was made easier by the fact that Congress itself was demanding a say.

She continues:

With the authorization Mr. Obama has sent to Congress, he is forcing Republicans to choose between an inconstant strategy and a "no" vote that harms American interests. When did a U.S. commander in chief last so cynically play politics with American credibility?

Republicans are boxed in:

Should Congress oppose authorizing action against Syria, he can lay America's failure to honor his promises on the legislative branch. Obama aides insist that even if Congress votes no, the president may still act—though they would say that. The idea that Mr. Obama, having lacked the will to act on his own, would proceed in the face of congressional opposition is near-fantasy.

Mr. Obama must figure that if he gets authorization, he nets two political wins. He provides himself cover for taking action, while simultaneously presenting Congress's vote as affirmation of his flawed plan to lob a few missiles and call it a day. When that pinprick bombing has no discernible effect on Assad's murderous campaign, Mr. Obama will note that this was Congress's will. As he said in his Saturday speech, "all of us should be accountable" for Mr. Obama's actions.

Strassel believes that Republicans should put the national interest first.

The challenge for Republicans is to do just that, to remember (no matter how painful) that this is not a vote about the president or his machinations. The only question before Republicans is this: Will they send a message to the world's despots that America will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction? If they will not send that message, they risk complicity in this president's failed foreign policy.

The argument seems to be working. Sen. McCain and Speaker Boehner will vote for the president’s resolution.

As for what America will and will not tolerate, the answer lies in the statistics on Syrian refugees. We have tolerated 100,000 deaths, 2,000,000 refugees and 4,500,00 displaced persons.

A few cruise missiles will not be sending a new message. And they will not make Barack Obama a competent or credible leader.


Nick said...

Jesus save us.

RKV said...

We need 3 questions answered. 1) Which Americans or American assets have been harmed or threatened by Syria? 2) Which of our allies have been harmed or threatened by Syria? 3) What are the other consequences of our action or inaction?

Answers: 1) None as of yet. 2) Israel and Syria have been at war with each other since at least 1973 and there is no peace treaty between them ending the Yom Kippur War. Turkey (a NATO ally) shares a border with Syria and has poor relations with Syria. 3) Russia has a naval base in Syria, and one that gives them a significant forward basing capability. The discovery of a large natural gas field in the Mediterranean just off the coast of Israel does not help the struggling Russian economy. Iran is a regional power, with significant economic issues of its own and has tried to project military power into the region via proxy for many years.

So, if the Israelis and Turks are directly threatened by Syria, they need to step up their support for combined action. Otherwise, we ourselves, have no causus beli. Sorry for the long suffering Syrian people, but trading a more or less secular dictatorship for a religious one is not worth our blood or treasure. And we'd damn well be prepared for unintended consequences (hello Russian Navy and hello higher gasoline prices) and figure out how we're going to pay for this.

I've got a 21 year old son, so I think about the draft - as in no way. What have the Syrians ever done for us?

Anonymous said...

Research on Syria's demographics, Hafez al Assad (Bashar's daddy) and the history of the current civil war will show it's genocide. This isn't a Union vs. Confederacy type of civil war, with uniformed armies pitched in set battles with conceptions of honor and duty to ideas greater than themselves. This is much more primitive and ugly. Assad is a creepy Baathist, and the Ba'ath party (remember Saddam Hussein?) was modeled on the Nazi party. It is a totalitarian minority that terrorizes the majority. Whether that's a matter of U.S. interest is a matter of debate, but our supreme leader said it was a "red line" so it's no longer a theoretical abstraction in the eyes of the world. We must act. But we're going to wait a week or more because of Obama's bizarre Congressional charade. Weird.

Like all things related to the U.S. in the Middle East, all paths lead back to Iran. Syria is a key ally of Iran and a destabilizing force in he region, through their murderous meddling in Lebanon (which they still believe is theirs by historic right) and sponsoring and supplying Hezbollah against Israel... and that's for starters. Iran has been our most enduring, pressing problem in the Middle East for more than 30 years. And that's real, not theoretical. We're eventually going to have to deal with Iran directly. Do we want to deal with a nuclear Iran or a non-nuclear Iran? That's a choice we've been unwilling to make.

And we have a vital U.S. interest at stake in this matter: OUR WORD. This goes way beyond Syria. This Syria situation is a "test" of sorts by Iran on two fronts: (1) is the U.S. serious about its claims to stand for human rights in terms of genocide, and (2) will we stand against weapons of mass destruction? If we are not and do not, Iran's nuclear ambitions and desires to be the hegemonic nuclear power in the region are already complete, threatening all our allies. That is an enormous, destabilizing consequence. If that's okay with Obama, then we're screwed. The Saudis will no longer need us as allies because they'll develop a bomb on their own to counter Iranian power, just like India did with Pakistan. We'll lose the Jordanians. The Turks will think us fools. Northern Africa is already a mess, and we've effectively written-off our interests and authority in Libya and Egypt because we haven't a clue about what to do. If we don't act in Syria, we'll have no moral authority in the world, and future rebel movements aligned with our interests will never trust us. It's bad, bad foreign policy. I don't want to deal with Syria, either, because it's a mess. But our word has to count for something in the world, and a U.S. president saying "red line" has to have some weight behind it. He put it out there, we have to back it up. I cannot believe we re-elected this guy.

(Cont'd below)

Anonymous said...

If Obama hated the genocidal maniacs in Syria as much as he does Republicans, this situation would never have come to pass. It's hilarious to me that he is going to Congress to exercise power that is Constitutionally his, especially when it's just to lob a bunch of cruise missiles (explicitly stating no "boots on the ground"). He's never cared a wit about Congress to this point, why now? Because he lacks courage and conviction on anything that doesn't include his moral superiority against "right-wing" Republican interests. Hell, if Assad were a Republican, Syria would be a parking lot by now. But he isn't comfortable about using U.S. power because he doesn't think our strength is "fair." He doesn't think America is exceptional, and in fact thinks American history makes our global standing a hypocrisy. So we're back to who our president really is: an aloof constitutional law professor who hasn't learned anything since college. And his actions show us the country is being run by Valerie Jarrett, Michelle's puppeteer and Obama's "conscience."



Dennis said...

I told my wife a few years ago that Obama was going to eventually, through his incompetence, kill a lot of people in this country. Obama is almost always two or more years late in taking effective action that might aid in moving towards real solutions. When one adds in that feminist mafia that advises him we have a demonstration of exactly would happen if women ran the world. I think his closest advisor, Valerie Jarrett made her money as a slum lord in Chicago which would somewhat explain the administration's actions towards poor people.
They just cannot understand that all the free "stuff," abortions, et al isn't going to mean anything if the country fails to take effective and timely action that is in OUR best interests. One thing we should have learned over the last 50 years is it takes BOTH male and female thought to survive in anything we do. What good is it going to do us if we are "gassed" and bombed by the very people we aided in taking over Libya, Egypt, other ME countries and now Syria?
It isn't about trying to do the best one can, it is about doing the best one can when it needs to be done. We cannot disengage from the world at large or talk something to death. We need to know "When to speak softly and when to carry a big stick." Our present actions seem to entail speaking loudly and carrying a very small stick. Not a very good way to survive in a very dangerous world. Foreign policy maybe a dirty word to some, but it is the president's prime function.
The House of Representatives is the people's house and the Senate, until the Seventeenth Amendment, was the State's house providing a check on the central government. We need a president who spends far more time on foreign policy and far less on domestic policy.

Anonymous said...

I greatly admire Mr. Cohen & his works. However, the Us, for raisons d'etat, has often betrayed allies.

Noriega, the Shah, Mubarak, many S.American dictators, Israel/UK in the Suez War, & others.

Bitter countries in Europe often used the imprecation "Perfidious Albion". That's how Realpolitik works. -- Rich Lara