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Belmont Club

Facing the Syrian Dilemma

June 17th, 2013 - 9:11 pm

It’s painful to watch President Obama stretched over the Syrian rack. His basic dilemma is that with Russia’s entry onto the scene he can’t afford to cede ground to Moscow or Teheran. But with al-Qaeda affiliated forces now making up 7 of the 9 main rebel groups he can’t afford to win either. Plus no matter who “wins” in Syria Obama will be left to clean up the mess.

An administration that promised voters never to intervene abroad or get dragged into post-conflict stabilization operations may eventually be forced to do both. There’s apparently a price to pay for everything.  The promise to control terror groups by intelligence warfare and drone strikes has revealed its hidden cost:  a massive surveillance apparatus whose vast extent is only slowly being discovered. And yet the President’s defenders ask, with some justice, ‘what was his alternative?’

The alternative was finish Assad’s hash when Saddam was done. Ok, so never mind. That’s a nonstarter with half the population, but it was worth mentioning just so it could be excluded. Then there’s diplomacy? Well that’s what internationalized the war in the first place. The process of forging regional coalitions with Sunni powers and getting everyone involved resulted in — everyone getting involved — including Russia.

Maybe there was a time when America could have handed everyone a fait accompli in the region. “There you are, take it or leave it”. But that opportunity was lost and there are now no good alternatives. What is worse, Obama’s is starting to lose his core base.

“The drop in Obama’s support is fueled by a dramatic 17-point decline over the past month among people under 30, who, along with black Americans, had been the most loyal part of the Obama coalition,” CNN polling director Keating Holland said. He also notes that the president’s approval rating among independent voters had plunged, too, dropping ten points in just one month to 37 percent.

Not only is the President facing immense challenges, he’s also losing the mandate to do anything decisive about it. Becoming a true lame duck. In addition to the financial debt, he’s run up a trust deficit — even among his own supporters. As Glenn Reynolds notes:

But President Obama has been telling us that the war on terror is practically over. In fact, maintaining that argument, pre-election, is why the administration falsely attributed the Benghazi attacks (which were by al-Qaeda) to a YouTube filmmaker who was then hustled off to prison for “probation violations.” So if we’re at war — if it’s still like the months post-9/11 — then why has Obama been saying otherwise? Is he lying?

Lying may be an impolite way to put it. ‘Kicking the can down the road’ sounds a lot better. And that’s what makes Syria so hard to sell either way. After saying the war’s over; after proclaiming a new dawn with the Muslim world; after promising grand bargains with Iran; after touting the glories of the Arab spring and a reset button to Russia then how come Syria? It reminds one of the old Soviet Union where everything steadily got better until it finally collapsed.

Syria, following on the heels of Benghazi, IRS and the NSA — not to mention a whole lot of other unfinished economic business — is reminiscent of multiple organ failure: “infection-> sepsis-> severe sepsis-> Multiple organ dysfunction syndrome”. All the injuries begin to run together. The President’s governance blunders are catching with him pretty much all at once.

Adam Garfinkle writing at American Interest argued that while the alternatives were never very good in Syria the President’s artful can-kicking tied them into the Gordian knot we see today:

It’s not clear that senior Administration officials, certainly to include the President, actually understood a year or so ago that the Syrian crucible was not just about Syria, but also about Iran, and Turkey, and Jordan, Lebanon, Israel…… It’s also not clear that they, any more than their predecessors, had a clue about the history and nature of sectarian cleavages in the region between Sunni and Shi’a Islam.

So the Obama Administration did not lead from behind on Syria. Instead, it sat on its behind—and there is a difference. And though many warned (me, too, for what it’s worth) that, left to its own dynamics, the situation in Syria would probably both get much worse internally and spread externally, the Administration still did nothing, even in a case where its humanitarian inclinations aligned perfectly with strategic interests with regard to Iran. It did nothing even when it had at least some chance of reaching an understanding with the Turks early on in the crisis. It did nothing repeatedly…..if such a thing is logically possible.

But that doesn’t answer the question of what President Obama should do now. The classic approach would be to make common cause with one of the two sides, defeat the common enemy first and then turn on your former partner later. After all, that’s how Truman handled the problem of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia back in the 1940s. Take down the greater evil and then settle scores with the remaining one. But to go down that road Obama would have to explain to the public why there’s a problem. He would have to level with them, quit treating them like low information voters and stop telling them fairy tales.

About 70 years ago two British leaders faced the puzzle of what to tell the public about the problems they confronted. One elected to say, “we have peace in our time.” The other was forced to say within months of the first, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”.  The sooner the facts are faced, the sooner both parties lay it all out, the cheaper the solution will be. The Narrative’s fine, but nobody ever beat Arithmetic.


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Top Rated Comments   
The disasters concatenate. We can expect hundreds of thousands of refugees to flow into America from the Levant. They will bring their conflicts with them. Domestic Constitutional evisceration plus Amnesty plus plus foreign policy evisceration plus unilateral disarmament plus discrediting of the US technology base in the international market plus exposure and paralysis of US intelligence capacity, equals fundamental transformation of America.

Perhaps this is the flexibility that Obama promised Medvedev and Putin. Here is a real tin foil theory for you. Maybe Obama wanted the secrets revealed by Assange and Snowden because that helps transform America.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Simple question: If Obama had not pulled out of Iraq, if a half dozen military bases including land based air had remained in Iraq, would the situation in Syria or for that matter Libya and Egypt, be any different today? If Obama had the ability to surge power into Lebanon and Syria, would 7 of 9 rebel groups be allied with al-Qaeda?

The reason America projected power and surged troops into Iraq rather than Afghanistan is the same reason that puddling American forces in a landlocked country entirely dependent on hostile or partially hostile countries for access, is abundantly clear to any village idiot that ever bothered to look at a map.

The tragedy, the absolute FARCE that is Obama is not simply the remaining options in the Middle East now available to the poor boy, but the fact that the idiot METHODICALLY DISMANTLED EVERY STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE bequeathed to his Administration by G.W. Bush, at the cost of some 5,000 lives lost and 10's of thousands of crippled an injured.

Now, young American boys will get to sacrifice all over again for the political expediency and electoral viability of Obama and his Democrats, just as they are in Afghanistan now.

Hell, the Democrats pulled the same stunt in Vietnam, and downsized the US military, ignored Bin Ladin, and constrained the CIA/FBI until just before 9/11/2001. This is WHAT THEY DO, every time they control US Government.

Palin captured my attitude towards Syria entirely. Let the Muslims fight and Allah sort out their differences. I don't want one more damn US dollar or one more American life lost in pursuit of a greater Islamic Caliphate. Certainly, I do not want US dollars or arms going to Syrian rebels or the "US is our enemy" Egyptians.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama's a creature of Democrat politics, and a radical true believer whose always been boxing out from the lunatic corners of academia. The great misfortune on foreign policy is that everything that trucks in that realm is dead wrong. He is worse than a president without a rudder in this arena. He's one whose compass points alternately everywhere but north. His one lodestar is that America has always been wrong here. Always. He cannot conceive a coherent foreign policy at any time. That's simply beyond his ken. He boxed himself in on that.

But whatever. Seriously. His greater project, widely and proudly claimed, is a domestic political transformation of the United States. This is what he dwells upon, exclusively. He's much farther along in this project than most realize. He's locking in progressive Democrat majorities, always, aggressively, and simultaneously shaping future political debate along lines that will always favor his faction.

We might never elect another President of the United States for a long time, and that would suit Barky just fine. Instead elections will be fought over schedules for benefits, for subsidies, for gallant moves curtailing individual action in the greater service of the public good, etc.

Of course, everything the left says in any of these areas is almost immediately a demonstrable lie. But no matter. They've prepared the battlespace for their advantage, and it's going to be very hard to derail this.

Hell, a couple weeks ago the Boy Scouts of America decided not to kick out gay scouts (like they ever did before!). And already last weekend some troops were marching in gay pride parades. That's a measure of the velocity, of the daring, and of the confidence moving the left.

They're on the march quite well. Whatever may happen in Syria or the ME pales in comparison to great strides they've been making.

So the cool kids don't give a rip. As usual.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (44)
All Comments   (44)
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I am reluctant to blame Obama too much for the fact that people in the Middle East want to kill each other over religious and ethnic differences. The Sunni-Shia schism predates his presidency as it does George W's and the existence of the United States.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I blame him only for neutering our capabilities, or refusing to use them. (As in Benghazi.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is bizarre to recollect Hill's statement "he is someone we can deal with".
It is bizarre that the state department didnt expect Russia to get involved.
It is bizarre that the administration has gone 'native' and is serious about allying with Al Queda.
Obama is no mere pedesrian liar, he is a con artist.
Obama and his corrupt cronies want money he already spent the peace dividend$.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"The alternative was finish Assad’s hash when Saddam was done."

But that would have meant having an intelligent post-Saddam strategy for Iraq. Instead, Obama decided the status-of-forces agreement should lapse, despite his promise of outreach to Muslims in his first inaugural address. Keeping Iraq in our sphere of influence might have been useful in dealing with Syria and Iran, not to mention any of a dozen other possible foreseeable or unforeseeable contingencies. Poor Obama. Poorer World. Both are discovering too late that a Peace Prize cannot confer peace, any more than it can make an incompetent former peacenik an effective Commander in Chief.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It was all Bush's fault before Obama took office, and has been all Bush's fault ever since. Barry has been an innocent bystander to it all, don't you know?

In fact, Barry was put upon by so many prior Bush abuses that it may take him 20, 30, heck, 50 years to solve all these problems for America and the world.

On to the next election of THE ONE. Obama's destiny awaits. (Why worry about the 22nd Amendment, while he's ignoring the 1st, 2nd, and 4th?).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Actually, if you extend the conceit, it's really the fault of the Founders. That's why Obama wants to "fundamentally change America" - for the better, or worse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is interesting to note how the one place where gay porn is most the popular happens to be Pakistan. Nobody who knows about Pushtun culture and its penchant for bacha bazi would be surprised. In that context, it is altogether intriguing how Ayman al-Zawahiri accuses the West of homosexual perversion, as if nobody would ever notice his body language around Osama bin Laden. Far be it for me to suggest that the late Osama bin Laden was Ayman's catamite, never mind how such behavior is apparently quite common in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. It's rather that Ayman al-Zawahiri's body language speaks loudly. Very loudly. So loudly that one can feel sorry for any boys sent to Pakistani or Afghan madrassas, particularly with so many pedophile imams in charge.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not to mention Afghanistan, men and boys.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Even if it's not true, it will do us no harm to proclaim it so.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I strongly suspect that Seal Team Six's adventure in Abottabad was a coup d'etat within al-Qaeda, orchestrated by Ayman al-Zawahiri. I think Ayman al-Zawahiri carefully fed United States information that would lead to the execution of his long time associate. This way, Mr. Zawahiri could assassinate his rival while shedding crocodile tears over his death, all the while letting Barack Obama crow over Osama bin Laden's demise.

No, I do not have proof. All I know is something about Ayman al-Zawahiri's character; he has a long personal history of utmost treachery. Mohammed al-Zawahiri, Ayman's brother, made his appearance on September 11, 2012. It is a wonder that each of those brothers is still alive; it is not as though either of them has really been hiding his presence. One wonders what it would be worth to the Pakistani government if each of them were to...

Sh.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There was a time when the Ottoman Empire had the Law of Fratricide. During an interregnum, a would be sultan would kill all of his brothers to secure his throne. That is basically what is happening in Syria. It is fratricide.

Any pretender to the throne will do anything – and say anything – to get into power, but once he gets into power he will act as a classic Muslim autocrat. It would also be a mistake to regard this fratricide as a sign of weakness in Islam, for it has long been an integral part of Islamic culture and pre-Islamic culture before that. It is not a bug; it is a feature.

Our enemies can see right through any attempt to play one side off against the other. Instead, it is best to hope that both “al-Qaeda” and “Hezbollah” lose, and lose badly. Once their bloodletting against each other ends, they will set their sights upon us. He who would eat the liver of his cousin would kill an outsider without blushing. The Syrian civil war is sharpening the knives of our worst enemies; once it is over, they will become devils – devils dedicated to eradicating us.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Right--whoever wins will be stronger and more experienced than ever and ready to come for us--remember post-Soviet Afghanistan, all those ''freedom fighters'' we equipped and trained? Now we're going to help fanatics in Syria?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
H-B: just read today that our government has approved a $527 million (or was it $572 million) contract to buy RUSSIAN helicopters, plus parts and training, to GIVE to the Afgan government. The SAME Afgan government who is currently holding "truce talks" with the TALIBAN as we speak! What's next, will we build them a "forward operating base" in Mexico so they can attack us more easily?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You seem confused...

Those would be the peace talks that America (Obama) has already initiated -- and dragooned Kabul into joining -- against their wishes.

Said talks are going absolutely nowhere, of course.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama has been involved in Syria from the very beginning. We know Obama's political activists were in Egypt, we know Obama's covert operatives were in Libya, and you don't just air drop a US Consul into some obscure city in Libya without preparation. We know in every case the 'rebels' have been Sunny, and that means Saudi Arabia. It isn't difficult to conclude that Obama's political operatives, and CIA covert operatives have been working with Saudi manpower, financed by Saudi oil money. The real target all along was Syria.

The difference is, in Syria, Iran had the means and resources to fight back against the 'rebels'.

The question isn't whether or not Obama should 'do something' in Syria, because his political operators have been 'doing something' in Syria from the very beginning.

The real question is who is it that is provoking the civil instability in Turkey?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What does Soetero do? Easy! He takes his plan to arm Al Qaeda to the UN, and then deigns to let his riff-raff Senate Democrats vote on shedding the blood of Arab women & children. After all, even the evil Chimpy McBusHitler did something like that, and where's his Norwegian Nobel Peas Prize, heh?

Of course, his Senate Democrats will vote for blood, but the Russians will veto any move in the UN. And then Obambi can do a Pontius Pilate.

His Plan B involves the French, who had no compunction about slaughtering colored native peoples in Chad -- and who did not incur the righteous wrath of the NYT crowd for doing it either. Lebanon has a dog in this fight, and it looks to Paris. Barry can lean back & let the French save his ass. After all, didn't the French do something useful during that American Revolution those tax-evading Tea Partiers keep talking about?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Please don't leave our former Secretary of State out of the narrative of throwing away Iraq and its superior strategic ME position. Unless Hillary had studied a hell of a lot of world and military history while kibitzing the Presidential moves as FLOTUS, she was no better prepared for he State Department sinecure than Obama was as the Boss.

But surely she and Obama enjoyed their discussions of the Teachings of Saul Alinsky around the White House campfire while Eric Holder conducted a murderous foreign policy across the Mexican border.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I agree with Sarah and Old Salt: ''let's you and him fight'', if they were skillful enough, would reduce the number of fighters, as they slaughter each other. We could arm the dickens out of Israel and Jordon, maybe even build up whatever bases may still remain in Iraq, then, armed and alert, watch from the sidelines. I'm too ignorant to know if that really would work but I suspect it's been done throughout history in other conflicts.

And: yes, we could have had the world's biggest aircraft carrier in Iraq, right in the middle of everything, with experienced troops to boot.

Instead we've got .... never mind.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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