The Cost of Obama’s Syria Dithering

Let’s hope the president has realized at long last just how dangerous the horror in Syria has become

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JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting at Binghamton University, in Binghamton, N.Y., on Aug. 23, 2013 in Binghamton, New York.

The last of the ancient kings of Rome, Tarquin the Proud, was approached one day by a woman who offered nine books of prophecy at a steep price. The king refused; the price was too high. The woman burned three of the books and offered the remaining six at the original price. Nothing doing, said the king. She burned three more of the books and offered the remaining three books at the same price.

But this time, the king bought.

That story is not a bad was to describe President Barack Obama’s approach to Syria. Originally, he had a chance to nip the destructive civil war in the bud, dealing Iran and Russia a major blow, isolating Hizballah, preventing genocidal levels of slaughter, reassuring key allies about his commitment and resolve, and preventing the development of a new wave of trained and funded jihadis in the heart of the Middle East.

No deal, Obama said, too expensive.

Then the slaughter came, the jihadi groups gained prestige and funding, and Hizballah jumped into the war. But the president still had the opportunity to solidify his alliances in the region, and blunt the effects of Russian and Iranian support for Bashar Assad.

No, Obama said; it still costs too much.

As time went by, the Egyptian military and the Saudis lost more and more confidence in an administration they believed to be trapped in a fog of moralism and illusion. They acted in concert against the President’s Muslim Brotherhood allies in Egypt, ruining the White House’s hopes to work with moderate and democratic Islamist groups in the region and handing the White House a first-class humiliation when the bloody non-coup coup went ahead.

And so now, when most of the possible gains that could come from intervention in Syria have been lost, the president finally seems ready to act. Like King Tarquin the Proud, Obama is now getting ready to put his money down, even though most of the goodies have been taken off the table.

If we are to believe the latest talk coming out of Washington, the White House is now considering a plan for punitive strikes in Syria in response to what it claims is overwhelming evidence that pro-Assad forces used have used chemical weapons. But this appears to be less out of conviction than out of a reluctant recognition that the President is “boxed in” (as The Hill put it) by his own rhetoric.

A President who would not go to war to stop massacres, who would not intervene to prevent terrorists from establishing enclaves in the heart of the Middle East, who would not move either to frustrate his most bitter international opponents or to oblige his closest regional allies is about to bomb Syria simply because he finds himself in a politically intolerable position.

The word in Washington seems to be that the president plans to split the difference between war and peace. He is looking to order some military strikes against Syria while making clear that his goal isn’t to ensure Assad’s downfall or to launch a renewed U.S. push to make post-war Syria a somewhat less horrible and less dangerous place than it now seems destined to become. He won’t put it this way, but the Obama’s goal appears to send just enough cruise missiles or bombs into Syria to prevent everyone from saying he flinched on his “red line” comment. He will say he is bombing in righteous rage; his enemies will say he is bombing to save face.

This kind of decision is exactly the kind of split the difference thinking that has gotten the President into trouble in the past. Surge in Afghanistan — but pre-announce your withdrawal. Attack Syria, but make it clear to everyone that you don’t mean anything serious by it.

That kind of thinking will not impress America’s wavering Middle East allies. It will likely not impress Butcher Assad or his friends in the Kremlin and Teheran. It will not strengthen the moderates in the Syrian opposition. It will not stop or even slow the killing. It will not bolster the President’s credibility at home. King Tarquin got a better deal.

The White House has not yet announced what its decision on Syria will be. We hope that wise counsels will prevail — that the White House understands that it has a strategic Syria problem and not merely a humanitarian chemical weapons problem, and that it will act decisively, strategically and legally to address the danger that the ongoing war in Syria presents to vital US interests. Obama must aim to make a difference and not just a point; whatever the US does should be about changing the equation in Syria and not just a display of kinetic moral dudgeon.

This won’t be easy. As Clausewitz reminds us, the goal of force must be political. Is Obama trying to bomb Assad to the bargaining table? Weaken him enough so that he gets on a plane to retire in Sochi? Bomb him just hard enough so that Assad only massacres Syrians in the many ways that don’t involve testing Obama’s red lines? Can Assad kill another 50,000 or 100,000 or more Syrians as long as he keeps his hands off the chemical weapons? The president needs a goal in Syria for bombing to be more than an act of moral pique; it’s not clear that he has one.

The situation in Syria demands a serious response from the United States. Let’s hope that President Obama has realized at long last just how dangerous the horror in Syria has become, and that whatever steps he announces in the coming days will be only the first pieces of a coherent and hard headed approach to the steadily deteriorating situation in a region of vital interest to the United States and its allies around the world.

35 comments
jplteif
jplteif

this is a sneaky article, they are trying to sway peoples opinion in favor of a war against Syria, I mean come on they are calling the muslim brotherhood a moderate Islamic group in Egypt, they have torched over 50 churches in the past month, and killed several innocent Christians.  Didn't we learn from Libya, we supported those terrorists and we received Benghazi as a reward.  To hell with all radical islam.  If anything support the Syrian regime, they hate us less.

TonyPow
TonyPow

Debunk the Myths in Investing (amazon):

Our presidents never learn about the harm to our economy from Vietnam to the current two Middle East wars. Why we need to be the world’s policeman (not stated in our constitution)? Ordinary citizens care about jobs and living standards, not about who is #1.

Every bomb we dropped on Middle East would cause n (you figure n) deaths in the US due to terrorist attacks. I'm not siding with the devils, but statistics and Newton’s Law of Action/Reaction never lie.

Let them fight for their own humanity, freedom and ideology themselves - we have enough problems (such as employment) to deal with at home.


GrinOlsson1
GrinOlsson1

This article is scandalous propaganda imply that the United States should somehow be involved in an Islamic ideological war with one of the minority led nations created out of the Sunni Ottoman Empire which murdered 7 million Christians in the Balkans and one Million Armenians. The facts are the minority Islamic secular nations were created to assure that the Sunnis never again create an empire. The Sunnis knowing they are the majority thought to use the "Arab Spring" to regain control of the Middle East. President Obama would be insane to thwart Syria from maintaining control of this fanatical group. It is quite clear that the United States government has been compromised by the Sunnis in that more Americans were killed in the 9/11/2001 attack than Pearl Harbor. We interned no Muslims and attacked the wrong nation of Iraq when the perpetrators were Saudi Arabians. Mecca and Saudi Arabia should be a glass parking lot for their heinous attack on the United States. Clinton was given 42 million dollars for his foundation by the Saudis and his wife gave over 6 billion dollars to the Pakistanis to "like us better"? - Not to mention the Saudis have bought into our mainstream media to thwart any adverse news reporting about Islam - which is the scourge of the world's freedom loving people - not to mention the most intolerant ideology this world has ever known.

don_koh
don_koh

Very well written piece by Professor Mead, really.  And I must say I pretty much agree on just about the entire analysis and conclusions.

billorights
billorights

This latest (phony) accusation of chemical weapons is at least the THIRD time the administration have accused the Assad regime of using chemical weapons. Each time, the evidence has always led back to the rebels. Last time (In May or June), rather than trouble anyone with a lengthy investigation, the administration saw fit to going public with their call for arming the rebels, despite having providing arms to them for nearly a year.


So the Assad regime is well aware of Washington’s agenda here. The LAST thing they would do is actually use them, especially after the Russians sat down with Assad in December and made him LOCK THAT 5H1T UP.


The story we are to believe this time is that the Assad regime fired chemical weapons into a rebel-controlled neighborhood, just as U.N. weapons inspectors were arriving in Damascus, with no indication of a larger military objective…i.e. no troop movements suggesting an attempt at flanking escaping rebels, no advances, no nothing.


Just a bunch of dead civilians, and the rebels STILL in control of the area.


Equally curious, Assad was pushing back the rebels. He was gaining ground. What possible motivation would he have to use chemical weapons?


This crisis is about Russia, not Syria. It is about economic and geopolitical encirclement, because Russia is standing in the way of Globalism.


Among other things, Russia is facing an imminent population crisis due, mainly, to the Soviets’ Frankenstein monster–alcoholism. While it kept the general population from rising up under Soviet rule, it has become a major Achille's heel.  We are flooding them with their worst nightmare…crazed Sunnis.


But there are several other issues here. The Globalists are redefining the ‘Eastern Question’. Is it any coincidence that the British and the French are barking so loudly?


Google:


wikipedia wiki/Eastern_Question


(see: Great Eastern Crisis)


Furthermore, the Globalists are trying to reshape geopolitical lines in order to reflect what they believe to be the economy of the future.


Like Afghanistan (also along Russia’s sphere of influence), Syria is one of the world’s largest lithium suppliers. And, while not a big oil producer themselves, there are a few VERY strategic pipelines running across the country.


In short, the Obama administration is chomping at the bit to move into Syria, and has been for quite some time.

shahid.unt
shahid.unt

This whole thing seems like a false flag operation. The inspectors go in and next day there is a chemical attack very close to where they stay. Who benefits from it? Rebels already supported by CIA and western governments. 

shahid.unt
shahid.unt

Bombing countries does not solve any problem. What about those thousands of babies killed by mal-nutrition or deceases in Africa. Infant mortality in Africa is so high because of lack of clean water. Why does 1496 people killed so big deal? USA used chemical weapons in Vietnam. There is no proof who used it. There is proof close to 1000 people were killed by army in Egypt but Mr Obama has not even condemned it or stopped military aid to egypte. The reality is Syria's government is not friendly to USA and that is the reason for all this.

RepPress
RepPress

you are advocating for committing a crime. Obama Has No Authority to Attack Syria over Chemical Weapons, IT'S ILLEGAL  http://youtu.be/cJtS-a1ulUs

the premise is also absurd, an attack like this will almost certainly precipitate a chain of events that will end up killing far more than 350 civilians Obama is supposedly concerned about.

LincolnX
LincolnX

The only mistake we can make in Syria is inserting ourselves. Either work with the UN or let other nations take the lead, as in Libya. I for one am sick of the Middle East destroying our country. Chickenhawk pundits who call us to get involved are like teenagers with smartphones, unable to look away and demanding that we look at them. 

LukeMadrigal
LukeMadrigal

Bombing for righteous rage?  Perhaps all one can expect from a president who, sadly, is lacking the experience to recognize the gravitas of both extreme alternatives, nor their consequences.  

DanBruce
DanBruce

Lots of "what ifs" in this article, but it is very very thin on specifics. The author seems to assume that the president can wave a magic wand and change what goes on in Syria. Or, is the author really suggesting that sending in ground troops two years ago would have made better sense? It is extremely easy to talk about what can be achieved by a massive use of American force, but, as Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, the results usually fall short of the promises. The author must have been asleep during the Bush years, when bravado ruled and wisdom was nowhere to be found.  

atiladelmosat
atiladelmosat

Time ideas: están temblando y tienen razón justificada,carecen de coraje,solamente aumentan la valentía de los pueblos desfigurando mis mensajes,existimos millones 

atiladelmosat
atiladelmosat

Se encuentra desesperado,  vencido es traicionero,cobarde,débil,incapaz  esta colocando los pies al borde del abismo que con un muy pequeño soplo caerá al vació, es lo que desean todos los pueblos del mundo y el pueblo autista de los EE.UU se le vendrá encima,sin saber porque o que esta pasando. El pueblo de Siria con una pequeña ayuda los vencerá determinadamente

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

What puzzles me is that Obama doesn't appear to intend to use the same approach he did with the extremely successful campaign in Libya: to let EU handle the bulk of the actual fighting.

In Libya, EU aircraft carried out 80% of missions, a fact which contributed to why the campaign was so very cheap (in its entirety costing less than a four days of war in Iraq).

Maybe France, UK and Turkey aren't as keen to attack as they appear? Maybe the US isn't keen on building up the EU's military potential? Or maybe the EU doesn't agree with the US on what the goal for the campaign should be?

DennyLonergan
DennyLonergan

@TheKillir FYI, you are now an enemy of state and can expect IRS audits and FBI surveillance. Hope you appreciate the security.

Openminded1
Openminded1

Obama Hussan will do what is best for his muslim brotherhood, he will not admit that , but just watch and see, once a muslim always a muslim like daddy and brother who works for the MB in Kenya. he is motivated to help them and safe face as well for history sake. he cares about nothing else he is a lame duck and no longer needs  the white vote , He just wants the vote of approval of the black community now. He was not black enough for the brother the first few years. Now on the downside of his reign in the White house he wants the love of the black community  and to go down a brother leader of Muslims.

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

The IDF can handle any threats to Israel. Other than that they can kill each other for a thousand years. Thins the herd

Openminded1
Openminded1

@jplteif Obama is a Muslim,keep on trying to tell you liberals out there. he is not going to wear a name plate that says B.Hussan Obama President of the United States and Muslim brotherhood main man that would not go over well in some circles. His dad,step dad and brother along with uncles are all muslim. his brother Malik is in Kenya right now trying to get funds for the brotherhood. He is a real true to life working member of the MB. So you do not think just maybe so is Barry O.a muslim?

billorights
billorights

@shahid.unt

Jarrett, Obama, Brennan <--> The Ikhwan


Google:

energyandcapital articles/saudi-arabias-syrian-intervention/3790

tekgnosis tekgnosis/2013/08/private-attorney-general-in-usa-proposes-to-nato-a-permanent-solution-to-the-crises-in-syria

zerohedge news/2013-08-30/dont-show-obama-report-about-who-really-behind-syrian-chemical-attacks

Openminded1
Openminded1

@RepPress he is not concerned he only cares about the MB, that phone call he is On he his talking to his brother malik in Kenya, a member of the MB.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@DanBruce And you think Obama is wisdom? Please his ruse to go to congress and guys like Mc Cain to pass the buck and throw blame in another direction in case things get really bad. Obama's concern Danny is the Muslim Brotherhood he has to make them happy he is a muslim so is his whole family. his brother is in kenya right now working for the MB. The nut case in Syria Assad hates the mb they tried to kill his dad years ago. Obama will attack for the MB's sake.

yshabazz2
yshabazz2

@Openminded1 Thats just some silly right wing BS.  I'm a muslim and I'm fairly certain the President is NOT.  Even if he was who in the heck outside of Egypt and Syria gives a rat's behind about the Muslim Brotherhood.  This is a non issue.  The sillier it is the more conservatives buy into it.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@yshabazz2 @Openminded1 Your certain and how is that? let me enlighten you, he was born a muslim, his dad and step dad both muslims, his brother malik is at this moment working for the Muslim brotherhood in Kenya. Do some research it is easy to find and validate, It has nothing to do with right wing BS, I like Obama am half black and white, this comes from a say it like it is black man who has lived in both the white and black worlds in the past 63 years. And the MB is in more places then you can imagine. The MB is why Obama wants to attack Syria to help them out. research  muslim and what country do you live in? curious  about your muslim loyalty.