The Syrian Mess

By Bolton, John | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Syrian Mess


Bolton, John, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Predictably, President Obama's recent decision to provide additional nonlethal military aid to the opposition Syrian National Coalition and its military wing has pleased almost no one. Those who want to provide arms and ammunition to the rebels see Obama's step as weak and insufficient, while those who oppose any aid to the increasingly dubious opposition see it as another step toward just such lethal assistance.

Despite these divergent criticisms, however, the decision announced by Secretary of State John Kerry, now belatedly converted to opposing Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship, is at bottom simply another half-step, a compromise, further evidence of President Obama's chronic national security indecisiveness. There is no coherent politico-military strategy at work here, only an effort to appease domestic and international critics of a Syria policy badly misguided from the outset.

The central issue for America has never been whether to aid the Syrian opposition or simply sit on the sidelines. The real question is how broader U.S. strategic objectives in the Middle East and elsewhere are affected by the conflict among Syria's ethnic and religious factions.

Unfortunately, other than pressuring Israel these last four years to surrender to unacceptable Palestinian demands, Obama is bereft of a regional strategy. By withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and accelerating withdrawal from Afghanistan, he acts as if we were the cause of regional hostility rather than a source of security and stability for our interests and friends.

And regarding Iran, whose support for terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons constitutes the principal threat to regional peace, Obama has simply been AWOL.

Where does Syria fit in? Assad's regime is no friend to America or Israel. It relies for its existence on Russian and Iranian assistance, it oppresses its own people and it is a key abettor of international terrorists such as Lebanon's Hezbollah. In short, the regime has nothing to recommend its continued existence.

For two years, however, Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pursued Russia, operating under the delusion that Washington and Moscow had "common interests" in effecting Assad's peaceful removal from power. Nothing could be further from the Kremlin's real interests and two years of conflict are largely attributable to this complete misreading of Russia's intentions.

Moreover, Obama was reluctant to oppose Assad for fear of displeasing Tehran's ayatollahs, thereby risking disruption of a parallel delusion, namely that Iran could be bargained out of its nuclear weapons program. …

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