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The Obama Administration and Syria: A Situation with No Good Choices Available

Now if you believe that in the times we live in Clinton did not know his remarks were being taped, you also believe that he did not inhale while a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. Speaking to Senator McCain, Clinton added: “Some people say, ‘Okay, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake. I agree with you about this,” he told McCain. “Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit -- like, as long as you don’t make an improvident commitment.”

On Friday morning, during an interview segment (beginning at 5:21 on the video) on Morning Joe, Clinton added that he thought Obama had done the right thing by announcing that he would supply arms to the rebels, and that he was rightfully being cautious about making public what exactly he would do while thinking through the problem. “We should support the rebel groups more vigorously,” Clinton said, adding that the administration

is “now exploring its options,” given that there are “logistical complications.” The administration, he argued, “is trending in the right direction now.” On balance, he said, “this should be seen as a positive story,” referring to the administration's announcement about military aid to the rebels.

In his statement to the McCain conference, Clinton said that since the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah are all in Syria “head over heels,” the U.S. has to act to slow their gains and give the rebels “a decent chance,” since they represent the majority of the Syrian people. Clinton warned that “we shouldn’t over-learn the lessons of the past,” and that unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, no one favored sending in troops. He compared the situation favorably to Reagan’s aid to the muhajadeen in Afghanistan when, he said, the U.S. “got an enormous amount of influence and gratitude by helping to topple the Soviet-backed regime” and failed to stay the course after the Soviet defeat.

Clinton warned, and here he was clearly distancing himself from the Obama policy, that if Obama did not act because polls showed the public did not want any kind of intervention, he would risk looking “like a total wuss.”  All the American people were saying, he argued, was that the U.S. should “be careful” before acting. The president, he argued, should try to sell the correct course of action to the people.

His implication was clear: Obama should have taken Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s advice when General Petraeus still was head of the CIA, and favored military aid to a pro-U.S. rebel group. His stance also allows his wife, should she choose to run for president, to publicly criticize Obama’s foreign policy and to advocate her own more activist position.

We now, given Obama’s “leading from behind” strategy the past few years, have reached the worst possible place to be in. Iran is gaining ground in the region and, with Russia’s support the aid of Hezbollah, has all but assured an Assad victory over the rebels.  Our secretary of State is running with hat in hand to Vladimir Putin, hoping to put together a conference to end the bloodshed on Russia’s terms, leading to a greater weakening of the U.S. position in the world. And the rebels we now say we will aid are as radical and bloodthirsty as the regime they seek to overthrow. Any outcome is likely to be anything but positive.

Let us hope the next few years move quickly and that the next commander-in-chief will act boldly to restore the reputation of the United States as a nation that uses its weight and power for good in the world.