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Obama's Syrian Quagmire

Obama’s bizarre logic is that he had drawn a red line against the use of chemical weapons, which Syrian President Bassar al-Assad dared to cross.

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The run-up to U.S. President Barack Obama’s now-on, now-off bombing of Syria has eerie parallels with President George W Bush’s deceptive drumbeat in advance of the invasion of Iraq. Allegations of weapons of mass destruction; classified intelligence that irrefutably establishes the atrocities; cherry picking of allies, reluctant or otherwise, to piece together an “international coalition of the willing” to spin an aura of legitimacy.

But while Bush’s intelligence was flawed, at least his objective — to get rid of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein — was a worthwhile goal. Obama’s plan is to simply penalize the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against its citizens by unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and aerial assaults, then let the brutal civil war, which is believed to have resulted in the killing of more than 100,000 people, grind on unchecked.

Obama’s bizarre logic is that he had drawn a red line against the use of chemical weapons, which Syrian President Bassar al-Assad dared to cross. So referee Obama is determined to throw the flag, smack him down with a yellow card, not even eject him from the game, then whistle for the war games to carry on.

Anything less, we are told, undermines U.S. credibility. Who would listen to us again if Assad were allowed to ignore Obama’s warning? Really?

There seems to be credible evidence that chemical weapons were indeed used in Syria, although it is far from clear that the Assad regime used them. It is entirely plausible that the Syrian opposition, which has been on the ropes in recent months, may have deployed the chemical agents in a bid to get the West entangled in the conflict to tilt the balance in its favor on the battlefield. We do not know.

But regardless, even if Assad’s regime did in fact use chemical weapons, horrific as that is, the proposed punitive action does little more than preen America’s feathers. Secretary of State John Kerry has argued that an estimated 1,400 people were killed by neurotoxin sarin, almost four times the number British intelligence had claimed, which alone should raise flags about the authenticity of the evidence. But even the higher figure constitutes fewer than 2 percent of the total fatalities in the Syrian conflict — and everyone agrees that both sides have engaged in atrocities against civilians. If the United States is genuinely concerned about the killing fields of Syria, then the logical step is to invade the country to put a stop to the massacres, in much the same way that Bush invaded Iraq. Anything less simply panders to America’s — and President Obama’s — vanity.

For all the lofty rhetoric about international law, civil rights and human dignity, the Obama administration has been deafeningly silent at the brutal coup in Egypt in which the generals dismantled an elected government, then brutally massacred civilians protesting peacefully for the restoration of democracy. And it has glaringly averted its gaze as friendly Gulf autocrats from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia terrorize their populations and foment military crackdowns in budding democracies in the region to prevent the waves of the Spring rebellions from cascading on to their shores.

President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel all describe themselves as reluctant warriors. It is ironic and dispiriting that such bellicose and disingenuous rhetoric is emanating from political leaders that have long argued for American restraint.

After the British Parliament voted down entanglement in the Syrian conflict, President Obama abruptly switched course and decided to seek Congressional approval before ordering action against Syria. Although he has been mocked by political pundits for vacillating, the decision to go to Congress is a masterful political stroke. Obama is calculating that for all their posturing, Congressional leaders have no option but to ultimately back his military plans.

We hope that he miscalculated and a combination of war-averse Democrats and rabidly anti-Obama Republicans will vote down his misadventure. Should that happen, it would signal a long term shift way from constant U.S. meddling in international affairs.

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Politics | Commentary | September 2013

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