Source: The Wall Street Journal – by Qassem Eid (The Rubble of Obama’s Syria Policy)
I kept asking why the administration wasn’t doing more to help my people. Then the Iran deal came through, and I knew
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was meeting with high-level Obama administration officials in Washington, D.C., two months after escaping Syria in February 2014, and I had just described to them all the horrors I had seen: the torture of protesters, the rape of women, the bombardment of civilians, the barrel bombs, the massacres, the sieges, the starvation, and the gassing of hundreds of innocents with sarin in August 2013. I had recounted how I barely survived those sarin attacks and the siege of my hometown, Moadamiya, near Damascus; and how, by some miracle, I managed to trick the regime into letting me leave Syria.
Now, I was asking the officials to take simple steps, to do something, anything, that would protect the millions of civilians I had left behind from further starvation and slaughter. But as I pressed these officials for answers, their replies grew increasingly divorced from the Syrian conflict:
Why couldn’t there be military action to protect civilians? The reply: The U.S. is helping Syrians through humanitarian and nonlethal means. Me: Thanks for your generosity, but can Band-Aids take down a fighter jet as it bombs civilians? Them: President Bashar Assad’s air-defense systems are too strong for a no-fly zone. Me: Then how does Israel keep bombing the regime? Them: The U.S. wants to avoid a military solution. We also need to stabilize the whole region. Me: Assad’s barrel bombs and starvation sieges are driving extremism, I’ve seen it with my own eyes—you call that stabilizing the region?
In this meeting and in numerous other meetings with people familiar with Mr. Obama’s personal thinking—at the State Department, with Democrats in Congress, at the White House—we would eventually reach a moment of honesty when someone would say, in effect: President Obama does not wish to upset the Iranians.
When I was growing up in Syria under the Assad dictatorship, the United States was always described to me as the “Imperial Devil.” But my views changed after my late father managed to smuggle copies of a forbidden magazine called Reader’s Digest, from which I learned that many people in the world lived better than we Syrians did. I also read an inspiring entry on the American Revolution, when people took a brave stand for a better life and then picked up arms when forced to do so. Suddenly, the “Imperial Devil” didn’t seem so bad, and the “Syria of Assad” didn’t seem so good.
When President Obama was elected in 2008, I celebrated alongside most of my friends. I had goosebumps during Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech of 2009, when he called Islam a religion of peace and used the Arabic greeting “Salaam Alaikum.” All around me in Syria, I heard excited talk of a new era of peace spurred on by a black American president who knew what slavery, racism and injustice felt like.
Syrians had high hopes for the Free World when the Syrian Revolution began in 2011. I told my friends that Americans had a million reasons to support us, because we were fighting for democracy against their geopolitical rivals. We waited for help as the Assad forces tortured thousands of protesters, raped thousands of women, turned thriving cities into ghost towns and exterminated people with sarin gas. Help never arrived.
I remember hopefully watching speech after speech in which President Obama said “Assad must go.” I remember when in August 2012 the president announced that chemical weapons were a “red line.” I also remember the burn of sarin gas in my lungs on Aug. 21 a year later, and then seeing the mass graves and piles of bodies and consoling myself with the simple thought that at least now the U.S. would act.
It never did.
When I first heard words to the effect that “President Obama does not wish to upset the Iranians,” I thought it was one more bad excuse for inaction. But in the aftermath of the Iran deal, I realize that those who gave me that absurd line were actually the most honest.
President Obama wishes for a legacy of peace through diplomacy; that I understand. What I can’t understand is why he believes that making deals with dictators can bring peace. During the Obama presidency, millions of people in Iran, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine protested for a better life only to be met with bullets, tanks and fighter jets.
Now tens of thousands in the Middle East are fleeing for Europe, despairing of ever seeing peace or freedom in their homelands. Had the president supported these people against oppression, he would have made the world a better place and achieved a true legacy. Instead he risks leaving behind disappointment and memories of drowned refugee children lying on beaches.
Mr. Eid, who often uses a pseudonym, Qusai Zakarya, that he adopted while opposing the regime in Syria, now lives in Washington, D.C.