Obama’s Syrian Crisis Exposes Obama’s Foreign Policy Weaknesses
Did you ever hear that time President Obama got Osama bin Laden? Between that and claiming he had Al-Qaida on the run – just don’t tell them about it – Obama was little interested in talking about foreign policy during the campaign. While conservatives demanded answers about what really went down in Benghazi, few have been answered. Russia started their crusade to embarrass Obama on the national stage the moment Hillary Clinton handed Russian President Vladamir Putin a wrongly-phrased “reset” button. Now the Syrian crisis has been so poorly handled by Obama that only the most partisan loyalists have determined the pending outcome to be some master plan by the administration. Below are five major missteps President Obama took in handling the crisis, which has become the first major foreign policy issue under President Obama that has been widely debated by the American public.
Indecisiveness on Action
Decisive leadership is usually the top quality of United States presidents. But in Syria – just as in Libya before – indecisiveness has led the way. At first the President called in John McCain to argue the case in favor of soon-to-come strikes. The President indicated they did not need congressional approval and that the strikes were going to happen. Then they didn’t happen. Obama then sought congressional approval as polls turned against him and he attempted to shift blame to Congress for not wanting to enforce “international norms” rather than the red line he set. Even then, the administration indicated the congressional approval was mostly just window dressing and they continued to make the case that we had to strike Syria “for the children” and failure to do so would embolden Syria and Iran. When it became clear that approval would not be coming his way for attacks, there was clearly no back-up plan in place, which led to us embarrassingly embracing a proposed Russian plan.
Failing to Create a Diplomatic Plan
As the Obama administration laid out their plans for Syria, one solution was almost universally absent: a diplomatic resolution. The Obama administration must have felt quite good about their chances in getting approval from Congress and doubted he would be abandoned by his own party. All proposed action revolved around attacking Syria with bombs and all discussions revolved around how much (or how little) force would be used. It wasn’t until it was clear Obama had little support from foreign nations, the US Congress, and the American public that Obama decided a diplomatic solution was an acceptable alternative. Of course the problem now was that there was no diplomatic alternative set as a back-up plan. Most frightening, the diplomatic route was proposed by Assad ally Vladamir Putin of Russia and not the US, Britian, France, Germany, and other true American allies. Clearly, the diplomatic route was never considered an option, and President Obama had no choice but to later give the world stage to Russia when it became clear he wasn’t going to be attacking Syria.
Determining the Allies in Syria
Americans have begun to turn on interventionism in the Middle East for a number of reasons. Aside from being a war-tired nation, there has been an unsettling lack of success overall. In Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, and now Syria the “rebels” and the “freedom fighters” that we arm and support almost always seem to be affiliated with Al-Qaida or just as extreme as the dictator we are trying to overthrow. Knowing what we know now, why continue to risk lives when little ever changes? The Middle East is filled with one civil war after the next, with government-sponsored anti-Americans battling anti-American rebels. There has been plenty of evidence revealed that shows that many of the rebels are affiliated with Al-Qaida, many streaming over the borders to battle the governments. Few people are convinced that the new guys would be better than the old guys.
Failing to Set Goals
The Obama administration effectively conceded the previous point by opposing regime change. The guy is really bad and he used chemical weapons, but we do not want him gone? And the goals set have been murky at best. Why do we arm the opposition to Assad if we do not want them to take over the country? Is our goal simply to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons and to return to slaughtering people “the old-fashioned way?” Remember, tens of thousands of people have been killed without chemicals weapons, yet this reality is mostly an afterthought. Then it was floated that the goal of the attack was to deter Iran from using chemical weapons and if they ever did, they would be met with decisive and definitive force. I’m sure Iran is very scared now.
When President Bush went into Iraq, the plan was simple: overthrow the dictator Saddam Hussein, secure weapons of mass destruction, and form a coalition government. The plan did not work so well after Al-Qaida stormed the country to prevent the transition from taking place. But the public knew what the goals were and they were relatively clear. In Syria, what is the point? It’s a similar question many have been asking about our enhanced involvement in Afghanistan under Obama. What is the goal?
Threatening Unilateral Action
Not only was the Obama Administration indecisive and seemingly goal-less, but they were obtusely willing to defy all international, domestic, and congressional opposition to an attack. If Obama was dead-set on attacking Syria and felt it was as crucially important as he claimed and if he did not think he needed any authorization due to their limited nature, he should have done so. While there is disagreement as to whether or not he could have attacked without approval, he certainly believes he had the authority to do so. Personally, I tend to agree to some extent. If the administration had acted quickly and initiated the limited attack, he would have been asking for forgiveness instead of permission. But he would have done what he claimed was absolutely necessary and what he thought was in his right as President to do. Instead, continual dithering allowed significant opposition to appear, leaving President Obama nearly alone int he world, with little support. Even then he threatened unilateral and congressional approval-free action. After spending years railing against President Bush’s “unilateralism” – regardless of the very large coalitions Bush was able to build – one would think President Obama would know better.