Syria – Obama’s Leadership Test

By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Saturday, August 31st, 2013 @ 5:10PM

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As any and all Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Obama is expected to say that he’s “war-weary.” Such statement, however, at times the United States is expected to lead the world against murderous tyrants, is inappropriate andunexpected form the leader of the free world, and raises questions whether he’s up to the task. Challenging the world, but taking no action against Syria, is yet another example of his inclination to lead from behind. This time, however, his inaction would shrink U.S. stature as the world’s most powerful country to lows from which it may not be able to recover.

As the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons cannot go unpunished, inaction would lead not only to more horrific atrocities in Syria and among its neighbors. It would also tell Iran it can do as it pleases, because the war-weary U.S. will do nothing to stop them.

The combination of Syria’s chemical arsenal with Iran’s nuclear weapons, with China’s and Russia’s blessing, is surely not in the interest of the U.S. Failing to act now, Obama would have the historical distinction of being the president who willfully reduced the most powerful country on earth to a pawn to be pushed around on the global chessboard.

Our president continues “to weigh his options” regarding an armed response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Never mind that he’s already leaked the limited options that he’s willing to consider and given Assad time to move his aircraft out of harm’s way and redeploy and disperse key military units. We are a week beyond Obama’s original statements to CNN that made it appear highly likely that the U.S. would do nothing.  Now that the Brits have backed out of any Western coalition to punish Assad, however, Obama has backtracked on his original call for an international approach and asserted that he’s willing to go it alone, if necessary-even without Congressional approval, without UN approval, and without anyone else’s approval. He sent John Kerry out at lunchtime on Friday to run through for the public the justification for whatever U.S. military action that may or may not be taken.

The more hesitant and weary he gets, the clearer it becomes that the president’s concern is with the image he’ll project and not with Syria’s atrocities, their effect on the region, escalating sectarian violence in Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt, or with the national security and the image of the U.S. in the world. It’s all about HIM.

Obama has made it clear several times that whatever we do is not intended to assist in regime change in Syria, despite his longstanding calls for Assad to step down. With such deliberate declarations and enough time for Assad to hide in a bunker and move his deadly weapons out of U.S. cruise-missile reach, what could be done to cripple Assad?

There have been a number of suggestions regarding how to make a limited military action in Syria meaningful. The most cost-effective action-which should have been taken a long time ago–would be the use of long-range missiles to destroy Syrian airfields and aviation-fuel depots, along with declaring a no fly zone over Syria.  Such an action would prevent the resupply of Assad with arms and other supplies from Russia and Iran and provide the time necessary for Assad’s opponents to inflict heavy damage to shift the strategic balance. The U.S. could also put a naval blockade on Syria and prevent Assad’s resupply by that route. With this done, the U.S. might focus on trying to get the opposition’s factions to stop their infighting over who will do what when Assad is gone instead of focusing on how together they can defeat Assad.

Obama, for all his talk about chemical-weapon red lines, has done nothing to supply life-saving tools and substances to protect our allies or the Syrian opposition from chemical attack. Josh Rogin, writing on the Daily Beast, has revealed that Obama has refused all requests from the Syrian opposition to provide gas masks, other protective gear, and atropine. Those requests apparently began more than a year ago:

“Almost three months ago, Abo Saleem, the directing commission secretary of the Council of Homs Province and a member of the political bureau of the Revolutionary Council of Homs, told The Daily Beast. ‘I’ve forward[ed] the information to the State Department telling them we are afraid of the use of chemical weapons by the regime and we need gas masks and some training to prepare for such an attack. I got no response. Two weeks after that, the regime used chemical weapons in the old city of Homs, as we were expecting. We sent the State Department reports, but nothing happened.'”

What could possibly be the excuse for U.S. inaction in this case?  Fear that gas masks would fall into the wrong hands? Fear of provoking Assad?  Surely neither.

At this juncture, if the United States does nothing meaningful regarding Syria, it may be the last nail in the coffin that Barack Obama has been building (possibly with ‘expert-carpenter’ Jimmy Carter’s aid) to bury our superpower status in once and for all.

The U.S. can’t afford to abandon its superpower status. As for Obama, he should realize that his sitting on the fence would encourage Assad and his Iranian masters to perpetrate colossal global disasters. If he doesn’t act effectively now, he’ll go down in history as the president who turned the most potent power in the world into an impotent and insignificant country. That’s surely is not how he want’s to be remembered, and it is not what the American people – who, as he often mentions, he was elected to serve–want.

Further Reading:

Charles Krauthammer: Shamed into war?

Lee Smith: No Regime Change-and Maybe No Strike At All
Obama isn’t angry at Assad, just disappointed.

Gideon Rachman: Echoes of the Iraq war are eerie but misleading

FT: Cameron urges MPs against being paralysed by the “spectre” of Iraq

Jonathan Stevenson: Bombing Syria Could Break a Political Stalemate
Put concerns about Russia aside. Once Assad is under fire, the calculus may change.  

John Hudson: Architect of Syria War Plan Doubts Surgical Strikes Will Work

Categories: ACD/EWI Blog, Latest News, U.S. Policy

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