From the beginning of the Syrian civil war, most experts of American politics would have told you that a military option is off the table with regard to Syria no matter the circumstances. What confused many, including myself, is why such a policy did not apply to Libya. Damned if we do, damned if we do not
Considerations surrounding the removal by force of Gadhafi centered on new possibilities for a quasi-independent energy policy for Europe, open military options that had very limited spilling factors, and little or no access to Iranian interference. The latter may have been the result of the Obama administration believing al-Qaeda is finished or the US is in control with the good work of Ambassador Stephens who later died at the hands of al-Qaeda.
If you add the acquiescent Russia as a factor that saw a Western client defeated, not one of their own, then Libya’s cost vs. benefits analysis yielded a reason for NATO to interfere.
Incidentally, Russians will always welcome the demise of a Western-inclined ruler sitting on immense oil reserves with such proximity to Europe because it also opens new possibilities for Russia to control Europe, but no less than before. In layman’s terms, this is called a win-win situation for Russia.
Libya went wrong though, which directly affected the decision-making process with regard to Syria. The military campaign was successful as far as US casualties were concerned, and there were enough Libyan funds frozen overseas to pay for the campaign. However, what missed the target is the unleashing of Islamist forces and a new rise of al-Qaeda in North Africa that put the brakes on any new military venture in the Arab world. Damned if we do, damned if we do not.
Little did President Obama understand that this new non-interventionist approach also opens the door to Islamism. Unlike Libya, though, the new Islamists rising in Syria will have under their belts years of experience terrorizing others and using their small victories to recruit more people. Today, a desperate Syrian cannot differentiate between what constitutes terror, acts of revenge, or defending his home and honor. Because organizations, like Jabhat al-Nusra, are helping Syrians defend themselves, it is hard to convince many of their danger in the future.
Almost no Syrian analyst speaks of this enabler terror factor in Syria’s future, which is the direct result of non-intervention by the West to influence positively the outcome in Syria. With Libya, at least the people, who chased the black flags of al-Qaeda by the thousands, are thankful for the US; no such luck for America in Syria today.
What also worked against a military interference by NATO or even a humanitarian corridor to save millions of refugees was the Russian intransigence Obama did not want to cross as part of his Kumbaya dance on the international stage. The last this President wanted was a fight with the Russians that could divert his attention from his domestic agenda.
Additionally, Senator John Kerry and others were weighing-in by seeking a political solution in Syria rather than a new Assad-less Government. Kerry built his case on such arguments as “Syria is fraught with dangers” or “If we interfere, we open the door ajar to a new military quagmire the country cannot possibly win”. In other words, Mr. President, do not be a Bush.
What I fault President Obama for is his lack of prescience with regard to resolving technically the Syrian tragedy rather than just hand it over to people with a long history of supporting violent tyrants under one pretext or another. I also fault him for refusing to open the Syrian file except once when US intelligence monitoring the Syrian WMD noticed movement and mixing of chemicals.
On this particular issue, and to offset Obama’s Red Line statement on Syria the President never intended to honor anyway, Secretary Clinton struck an agreement with the Russians to hold Assad in-line on the use of WMD by trading the NATO military option for those guarantees.
It took mixing of little chemicals in ways the West could not miss for Russia to fool completely the Western hemisphere and obtain the only guarantees that would remove Assad from power. One player playing with a Chess mind, the other playing with a Dominoes mind.
Between Libya and Syria, the US and its allies face a kindred dilemma of the kind that spells doom in the form of “damn if we do and damn if we do not”. Several policy makers (Group A) are as adamant in removing Assad by any means possible as other less inclined policy makers (Group B) are accommodating Assad politically to start taking the nagging Syria off their radar screens. Group A believes Assad must go and the West will have to face those who follow with a new set of fresh eyes and policies. One problem-at-a-time type of an approach.
However, Obama is becoming more abstinent when it comes to Syria as he takes the approach of Group B. It is the least risky even though it is the most taxing on the Syrian people.
As he takes the Group B approach, the President also wants you to know that he is taking Group A approach as well. Why would he otherwise say that Assad would eventually be removed from power when he is trying to accommodate him by giving a green light for the Syrian opposition to open a dialogue with Assad?
Leadership is missing in Washington because even the successes of this President (Like killing Osama Bin laden) are misleading to the nation. Terror is as rampant today, if not more, as it has been in the past.
It is high time for this President to pay attention to the region as much he pays attention to Labor Unions or taxing the rich because his policies are creating a mess that need to be addressed.