The Total Failure of Obama Syrian "Policy"
Can't blame Bush for this one. Another example of that "smart diplomacy" we were promised.
It’s hard to pinpoint just when, exactly, Barack Obama’s Syria policy fell apart. Was it in December, when Islamists humiliated U.S.-backed rebels by seizing what limited supplies America had given them? Was it back in September, when Obama telegraphed his reluctance to enforce his own “red line” after the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its own people? Was it in the months beforehand, when the administration quietly and mysteriously failed to make good on its pledge to directly arm the rebels? Or did it collapse in August 2011, when Obama called on Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to go, only to do almost nothing to make it happen?
But collapse it has, and more than 130,000 deaths later, the White House is now pinning its hopes on a peace conference in Switzerland later this month that is being billed as the last, best hope for a negotiated solution to a conflict that has displaced a staggering 40 percent of Syria’s total population, some 23 million people, in what the United Nations says is fast becoming the worst and most expensive humanitarian catastrophe in modern history.
Thirty countries, the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League are all sending representatives to the Jan. 22 conference, where they are expecting to broker a peace accord between Syria’s two warring sides. As it now stands, however, the meeting, known as Geneva II, is already a fiasco. None of Washington’s affiliated rebels has any significance on the ground in Syria any longer, and the rebels who do matter on the battlefield want absolutely nothing to do with the conference; they will not talk with Assad or his state sponsors Russia and Iran, the arms dealers and militia builders who are after all underwriting Assad’s war machine. In the months since Obama’s decision to cancel military retribution for the regime’s Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus, we have witnessed the near-total collapse of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), and with it the last shred of U.S. influence on the trajectory of the conflict.
The president’s indecision played a major role in the FSA’s eclipse. First, Obama deferred the decision on whether to wage punitive airstrikes to Congress. Then he sent high-ranking officials to Capitol Hill to sell this unloved policy of military intervention in a halfhearted and nothing-to-see-here manner, downplaying the effect that the mooted “unbelievably small” airstrikes, as Secretary of State John Kerry termed them, would have on the regime’s war-making ability. Finally, with the votes not forthcoming, the president scrapped the idea altogether in favor of an 11th-hour plan offered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to decommission Assad’s chemical stockpiles. From there, what remained of the FSA quickly disintegrated.
But the seeds were sown months earlier. About a week after Kerry gave two rousing war speeches and compared Assad to Adolf Hitler, and just days after Obama announced that he’d be seeking congressional authorization for airstrikes, the Wall Street Journal reported what every Syrian already knew: The light arms that the White House had licensed the CIA to deliver the FSA’s coordinating body, the Supreme Military Council (SMC), way back in June—when earlier evidence of the regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons had become internationally known—had yet to arrive, owing to the difficulty of securing delivery “pipelines.”