Feb 10, 2016

How the President Has Almost Lost Syria

This is the essence of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy: Acknowledge there is a problem, offer strong words of reproach, and then do nothing about it.

At a hearing conducted by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today, Brett McGurk—the State Department’s lead official coordinating efforts against ISIS—said that the siege of Aleppo in Syria is causing “a humanitarian catastrophe.” UN officials have already warned that hundreds of thousands are put at risk without food and medicine because of the Assad regime’s sieges, and innocents are already dying.

The results of Assad and his allies’ actions are “unacceptable,” McGurk said. The problem is, the Administration’s action (or, rather, inaction) following the sieges across Syria makes it look a lot like it is accepting the unacceptable.

Such inaction is par for the course for the Obama Administration. The truth is that the President’s indecision and inaction paved the way to today. And as we continue to wait, America is left with fewer and fewer options. Let’s remember how we got here.

After President Obama backed away from his chemical weapons red line, the Administration began a half-hearted attempt to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels. Assad first targeted those rebels the west could support, attempting to eliminate all except the most radical groups. When Russia and Iran joined Assad, the tide really began to turn. The Assad regime has steadily regained territory as Russian bombs drop on civilians and fighters alike.

The Obama Administration’s response has been silence. As the Washington Post editorial board put it,

“In the face of this onslaught, which promises to destroy any chance of an acceptable end to the Syrian civil war, the Obama administration has been a study in passivity and moral confusion. President Obama is silent. Secretary of State John F. Kerry has been reduced to reading the text of Resolution 2254 [regarding peace talks in Syria] aloud, as if that would somehow compel a change in Russian behavior.”

Those rebels that we could support have completely lost heart. As the New York Times recently reported,

“In nearly five years of war and insurrection, many Syrians have been repeatedly disillusioned by what they saw as a mismatch between tough American rhetoric against the Syrian government and comparatively modest efforts to aid some of its opponents.”

With the Administration’s non-response to the siege of Aleppo and Russia’s relentless bombing, American-supported rebels are now saying there is “no hope” and that their fight is “over.” The Administration, however, is refusing to confront the magnitude of the problem. And each day we wait to adequately support the moderate rebels that remain is another day the murderous Assad regime backed by Russia and Iran gains strength. It’s another day ISIS remains entrenched in its Syrian stronghold. It’s another day the Syrian people must starve at the hands of their would-be ruler.

The lesson that President Obama failed to learn over two terms of repeated setbacks is quite simple. Inaction, like action, is a choice. And inaction can have consequences, costs, and “humanitarian catastrophes,” that action could have stopped.