Obama’s Syria Catastrophe
How a cascading series of blunders by the Obama administration helped lead to the present humanitarian crisis.
The humanitarian situation in Syria worsens day by day. The Assad regime and Russia are carrying out intense lethal bombings over the rebel-held eastern Aleppo, where about 250,000 people are effectively trapped under siege by Syrian military forces. They claim they are targeting terrorists, not civilians. The United States and its allies retort that the savage aerial bombing campaign against civilian targets such as hospitals and shelters has nothing to do with counter-terrorism. The United Nations Security Council has met numerous times to address the tragedy, to no avail. This past weekend’s emergency session of the Security Council was no exception.
On October 8th, France and Spain, with the strong backing of the Obama administration, introduced a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council demanding a full cessation of all hostilities, including an end to all aerial bombardments over Aleppo, as well as the provision of immediate, safe and unhindered humanitarian access. Russia introduced its own competing draft. While there was a fair amount of overlap between the two drafts, the Russian draft omitted any reference to the cessation of aerial bombings and revived the idea of modest weekly 48 hour humanitarian pauses in fighting. It also insisted on the need to verifiably separate “moderate opposition forces from ‘Jabhut Al-Nusra’ as a key priority,” which Russia has accused the United States of failing to accomplish.
Russia vetoed the French-Spanish draft resolution. The Russian draft failed to get the necessary majority of Security Council members to go along with it. Acrimony filled the air with charges and counter-charges assigning blame for the Syrian tragedy and the failure once again of the Security Council to take any decisive action. Meanwhile, civilians continue to die in Aleppo.
Russia’s military intervention on the side of the Syrian regime has surely tipped the balance in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favor at a horrendous price suffered by thousands of innocent victims, including little children. However, it was President Obama who allowed the situation in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa to spiral out of control in the first place, without even a trace of self-reflection on what he might have done wrong.
The disaster in Syria will likely top Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy, even though Obama so badly wants the Paris Agreement on climate change to be his most long-lasting foreign policy legacy achievement. Indeed, Obama is so hung up on climate change as his number one foreign policy initiative that he actually blames climate change, which he is resolved to begin reversing, as having “contributed to the unrest and the Syrian civil war.” This is an example, according to former U.S. Army Gen. Robert Scales, of “politically-correct imaginings” and “politically-correct theories inserted into a battle plan” that “might well extend war needlessly and get soldiers killed.”
Obama’s solution to the refugee crisis resulting from the Syrian catastrophe is also a politically-correct plan with a potentially dangerous outcome. Obama is allowing thousands of Syrian refugees into the country without proper vetting to determine first who they are and what they believe. And he is not doing so to help save persecuted religious minorities such as Christians and Yazidis from genocide. Out of a total of 12,587 Syrian refugees the Obama administration admitted to the United States during the just-ended fiscal year for resettlement in communities throughout the country, 98.2 percent (12,363) are Sunni Muslims. Only 0.5 percent (68) are Christians and 0.19 percent (24) are Yazidis. Considering that ISIS and al Qaeda members are Sunni Muslims themselves, such an exceedingly high proportion of Sunni Muslim refugees admitted into the country, versus the truly persecuted religious minorities, almost guarantees that some Islamist terrorists will slip through the cracks.
Obama’s fundamental error all along has been to empower the Islamists he believes the United States could work with. He paved the way for enriching Syria’s principal ally in the region, Iran. Very shortly after his apology speech in Cairo to the Muslim world on June 4, 2009, Obama backed the mullahs in Iran, ignoring the pleas for American moral support from millions of dissidents marching peacefully in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities. They were being beaten and worse as they protested the rigged “election” of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama then proceeded to acquiesce to virtually every demand the Islamic theocracy made to secure his nuclear deal with Iran. Thousands of Iranian-backed fighters, likely paid for in part by funds made available to Iran’s government as a result of Obama’s appeasement nuclear pact, have been converging on Aleppo to help the Syrian regime in its all-out assault on rebel-controlled portions of the city.
Obama also supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. To try and topple secular dictators, he helped arm so-called “moderate” rebels in Libya and Syria without careful vetting. Many of them either willingly, or were forced, to join the jihadist terrorist groups ISIS and al Nusra. ISIS gained strength in Syria and Iraq after Obama’s precipitous withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2011. Obama’s disastrous decision that same year to intervene militarily in Libya to overthrow Muammar al-Qaddafi, without any concrete plan for the day after, resulted in a failed state and Islamist strongholds from which the Libyan-based Islamists sent jihadists and arms to their jihadist brethren in Syria.
While Obama’s series of disastrous mistakes helped strengthen the Islamists in Syria on both sides of the conflict, he allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to get the upper hand in Syria, which is playing out today in Aleppo and elsewhere.
It was not always this way. When Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, he did not display an intent to deploy Russian troops or warplanes in or around Syria immediately to help Assad against the rebel forces trying to overthrow him. Obama had decided against any major military intervention in Syria to help the rebels, who, indeed, were almost impossible to vet properly and were saturated with jihadist elements, but allowed the provision of some covert aid to the so-called “moderate” rebels without any apparent interference by Russia. More significantly, in his infamous declaration of a ”red line” against the use of chemical weapons in 2012, the Obama risked the credibility of the U.S. if he did not follow through. And that is exactly what happened: Obama had warned the Syrian regime that the U.S. would take direct military action if it used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. Yet, when it appeared a year later that Assad had crossed Obama’s red line with the Syrian military force’s use of sarin gas that took the lives of nearly 1500 people, Obama drew back from his threat. Obama allowed Putin to bail him out of enforcing the red line with a face-saving agreement stipulating the removal and destruction of the Assad regime’s designated stockpiles of chemical weapons. The Obama administration opted to use the UN Security Council to unanimously endorse the agreement worked out, with Assad’s consent, between the United States and Russia. The agreement was to be implemented on an accelerated timetable, with monitoring by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Removal and destruction of the Assad regime’s designated stockpiles of chemical weapons were used as cover for the Assad regime to step up its attacks on civilians with conventional weapons, and jihadist terrorists gained control over swathes of territory. Moreover, Assad still has some chemical weapons, which he has allegedly used against civilians since the passage of the UN Security Council chemical weapons resolution.
Putin in the meantime used a variety of tactics, including bait and switch negotiations and the cynical use of the UN, to buy time in order to build up Russia’s own military forces in the region. President Obama, in turn, played right into Putin’s hands. Obama gave up the military leverage he had in 2013 to target specifically and destroy Assad’s warplanes and airfields when Assad crossed Obama’s red line. Russia was not then in a position to run interference for Assad militarily. Russia’s strong military build-up since that time has changed the military equation – and, by extension, the balance of diplomatic leverage – to Assad’s and Russia’s advantage. Russia bought the time necessary to become the Syrian regime’s full partner in relentless air attacks leading up to the horrors now unfolding daily in eastern Aleppo.
Sadly, any real viable diplomatic solution to the five-year-plus Syrian conflict, which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives, displaced millions of people, and precipitated a refugee crisis of historic proportions, is further away than ever. In short, President Obama’s legacy in the Middle East consists of a revitalized Iran, a Russian presence at a level not seen for over four decades and an unstable environment in which jihadist terrorists have thrived. Obama has risked importing the ensuing chaos into this country by admitting thousands of unvetted refugees.