The Soviets always used to say “if you say A, you must do B,” meaning that words had to have consequences. Yes, it’s a commonplace banality, one of those things that’s so obvious, it hardly bears mention. Except if you’re a politician or a pundit (hard to tell the difference sometimes, to be sure). For that small class, words don’t have to have any consequences at all. They think they can just say things, and when the subjects come up again, they can say other things. And just move on.
It’s hard to adjust to this, for those of us who were raised to believe that words not only matter, but actually tell you something about future actions. We take public statements very seriously, especially when they come from government leaders, and it’s hard to break the habit. Alas, with the current administration, we’ve got to admit that the words are often just words.
Even experienced journalists still fall for the Obama rhetoric, believing — and their belief is evidently reinforced by “inside sources” trying to make themselves and their president look good — that real action is minutes away. Take David Ignatius, for example. He’s been around for quite a while, both in Washington and overseas, and he’s got plenty of sources. Yet, two weeks ago he wrote that Obama and Hillary had (finally!) given up on any “reform” from Bashar Assad in Damascus, and they were stepping up support “for regime change in Syria.”
But there is no such support, so far as anyone can tell. Indeed, there is such a lack of support that some Arab writers are deriding the president for his wimpery, while also desperately looking for some deep strategy to “explain” our inaction, and warning that he is making things even worse:
…the lack of consistency in the US position against the Assad regime is creating a perception in the region that the US hopes that Assad would survive these crises bloodied and weakened — where the US really wants him to be.
The US, therefore, is risking placing itself as the one that is encouraging Assad through its silence and inconsistency and thus giving him the impression that the US would not oppose him directly and personally if he used more force against civilians’ protesters.
Ignatius knows that Obama and crew aren’t doing much of anything — hell, he hasn’t said “Assad must go,” as he did with Mubarak and Qadaffi — and he relays their excuses for inaction: “The puzzle is how to help the Syrian opposition gain power without foreign military intervention — and without triggering sectarian massacres inside the country.”
As if there are a shortage of sectarian massacres in Syria. Try that one on the citizens of Hama or Hom or Aleppo.
Ignatius quotes various speeches from Hillary to bolster his case that America now supports regime change in Damascus, and if those words actually meant something, he would have been right. But they don’t mean anything except that the secretary of State could not remain silent in the face of the slaughter of the Syrian people. So she posed as a tough guy, perhaps reflecting a similar pose from the president.
Within days, however, Obama pulled the tapestry from beneath Hillary’s feet. As Lee Smith wrote in the Weekly Standard,
…Obama took Washington out of the equation by saying that it was in the eyes of Assad’s own people that the dictator’s legitimacy had come into question. And even more bizarrely, a White House spokesman told reporters that the administration is still looking to pressure Assad to “meet the aspirations of the Syrian people”—a statement not merely tone deaf, but morally obtuse
There is no reason to believe that this administration grasps the dimensions of the world war in which we are engaged, like it or not. To look at Syria alone is a failure of strategic vision, because the battle of Syria is part of the larger conflict, involving our current major enemy Iran. Indeed, the Syrian slaughterhouse is a repeat performance of the earlier (and still ongoing) massacre in Iran, and is assisted (perhaps even instructed) from Tehran. From an Israeli analyst:
Reports have emerged about elements of the Iranian IRGC’s Al-Quds Force (responsible for subversion and special operations outside of Iran), advisers from Iran’s domestic Law Enforcement Services, as well as Hizbullah men working throughout Syria to help Assad repress the popular protests. Iran also apparently provided Syria with advanced eavesdropping equipment which enables the identification of activists who converse by phone or use social networks on the Internet.
There are also stories of Iranian snipers on the rooftops of Syrian cities gunning down protesters in the streets, and Iranian intelligence operatives working side by side with their Syrian counterparts to round up potential centers of rebellion.
The Iranian tyrants tremble at the thought of a free Syria, since, as in Iran itself, the odds favor a successor regime that would devote its energies and depleted resources to the care and feeding of its own people rather than to the support of terrorist proxies like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and al-Qaeda. Moreover, the spectacle of the overthrow of Iran’s closest regional ally might well inspire the Iranian people to take to the streets once again against Ahmadinejad and Khamenei.
This is not geopolitical thumb-sucking; it’s the deep conviction of Assad and the Iranian regime. It should be understood by our policymakers. And there is more, for regime change in Damascus and Tehran means a blow to Iran’s close ally in our own hemisphere, Hugo Chavez.
So the stakes — both strategic and moral — are high indeed. Just a few weeks ago, when a new “Obama doctrine” was announced to justify our half-assed intervention in Libya (we couldn’t stand by and watch a tyrant slaughter his own people), it was said that a troika of “Valkyries” consisting of UN Amb. Susan Rice, Secretary of State Clinton, and national security staffer Samantha Powers had shaped the president’s new vision and firm resolve.
Words, just empty words. Christopher Hitchens understands it well, because he watches Obama’s feet shuffle rather than listen to the jive from his lips:
Meanwhile, the streets and squares of Syria and the committees of the Libyan civic opposition fill up with eager and anxious people who want to know if they have been naive to place their bets—in some cases to wager their lives—on democratic transition, peaceful tactics, the transparent allocation of previously stolen funds for long-overdue reconstruction, and the removal of a parasitic military and police caste. Having long entreated Middle Easterners to phrase their demands in this way, we then go all hesitant when they agree to do so.
A failure of strategic vision, combined with a failure of will, producing a disaster that invites new and greater horrors.