ANALYSIS: Syria shows Obama’s unsteadiness in conducting foreign policy

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Dwight Eisenhower once declared that the pursuit of peace required unwavering boldness, and the execution to back it up. To proclaim you want peace “is easy,” the war hero turned president said during his second inauguration speech. “To serve it will be hard. And to attain it, we must be ready to pay its full price.”

President Obama and his national security team might want to go back to the textbooks and absorb some of old Ike’s wisdom.


SEE ALSO: Syrian state media call Obama’s move a ‘retreat’


No matter where one stands on the crises in the Middle East, there’s little argument right now on either side of the political aisle that the president’s handling of Syria is no way to conduct American foreign policy. It has defied all the rules, conventions and wisdom accrued on the global stage since the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

For nearly a century now, American presidents have followed a careful path when the use of military might is at stake. Democrats and Republicans alike have decided with the cameras off what the right thing is to do, crafted a plan with advisers in private to get it done, marshaled overwhelming resources to ensure victory, assembled the political will both at home and abroad to go forward and then declared publicly what they were doing.

When that declaration was made, there was no doubt among friend or foe that America intended to follow through, and imminently.

** FILE ** In this image from video broadcast on Syrian state television Wednesday, April 17, 2013, President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview. (AP Photo/Syrian State TV via AP video

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** FILE ** In this image from video broadcast on Syrian state ... more >

Not so under Mr. Obama.

He declared with rhetorical flourish a few years back that he wanted to ride the great wave of democratic hope fostered by the Arab Spring. But there was no clear pattern of aid, military advice or diplomatic strategy to ensure the right democratic forces emerged in the Middle East and North Africa.

As a result, two of the world’s most tinderbox regions have become playgrounds for Islamist extremists, engulfing some of America’s most important allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in a sea of instability with no clear U.S. policy or prerogative.


SEE ALSO: China to U.S.: Don’t go into Syria with force


Two years ago, Mr. Obama declared quite spontaneously that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad had to go. But there was no plan to back it up. No military aid to the rebels, and no consolidating of allied consensus. And in the vacuum of strategy and execution, two terrible things happened.

Hezbollah and its backers in Iran joined the fight on Mr. Assad’s side, with advice from Russia’s best military generals. And the ragtag group of rebels was forced to turn to the likes of al Qaeda and similar Islamist groups for support, supplies and bodies. The ensuing chaos has now left Americans with a civil war battlefield where the good and bad guys are almost indistinguishable.

A year ago, Mr. Obama did it again. He drew a red line in the sand by declaring that the use of any chemical weapons by Mr. Assad’s forces would be punished. But when the first evidence of chemical weapons usage emerged months ago, the administration vacillated, signaling clearly that it did not have the political will or a military plan at the time.

It only emboldened Mr. Assad’s forces, who late last month reportedly used sarin gas shells to kill more than 1,400 men, women and children in a Syrian opposition village. The president and his advisers, led by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, immediately declared the red line had been crossed and military action was imminent.

That was a week ago. The president’s advisers were leaking endlessly, promising a limited military strike was just hours away. The entire battle plan — even with identified Syrian targets — was splashed across the front pages of newspapers, including The Washington Times. British Prime Minister David Cameron rushed to join the operation, but he took the case to Parliament and failed. This was the first time since 1782 that a British ruling party had lost a vote on an issue of war (ironically, that vote effectively acknowledged the U.S. victory in the War of American Independence).

Then nothing happened. Instead, the young president, with his more experienced Vice President Joseph R. Biden in tow, showed up on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon in the Rose Garden to make the most unusual capitulation seen in U.S. foreign policy in decades.

Mr. Obama said he had decided to order military strikes but was holding the order in abeyance until Congress could come back from summer recess and vote on authorizing the operation. He didn’t even answer what would happen if lawmakers rejected the notion. In other words, the world’s most powerful leader yielded his pilot stick.

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