Skip to content

Obama’s Mind Block on Syria May Ignite a Wider Mideast Crisis

Syria’s deputy foreign minister gibed on Sunday that President Barack Obama was demonstrating “hesitation” and “confusion” in announcing he’d ask Congress for approval for military action against that country.

That’s putting it mildly. Confusion, hesitation — also fecklessness, weakness and indecision — have characterized Obama’s whole approach to the Syrian civil war.

Now, Obama faces the very real possibility that Congress will deny him the authority, justifying the further gibe in state-run Syrian media that the world was witnessing “the start of an historic American retreat.”

Actually, it would be the capstone of a massive American retreat in the Middle East already under way — and massive gains by the despotic Shiite axis of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, abetted by Russia.

Obama pulled U.S. forces out of Iraq on terms that reduce our influence to zero and maximize Iran’s. His pullout from Afghanistan and abandonment of Pakistan are further examples of retreat.

Iran, Syria and Hezbollah already have reduced Lebanon to chaos. They could do the same in Jordan and Turkey. Saudi Arabia is terrified that Obama will let Iran develop nuclear weapons, whereon it can seek to dominate the Persian Gulf. Would Obama help Israel destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities? On the basis of the record, it’s doubtful.

Obama could have delivered a counter-blow to the Iran axis when the Syrian civil war began by giving weapons and training to reasonable elements of the Syrian resistance. Instead, he called for Assad’s ouster, then did nothing to attain it. He let the opposition become dominated by al-Qaida affiliates getting trained and hardened for future terrorism also directed at Western allies, and the United States, too.

Obama declared that Assad’s use of chemical weapons was a “red line” whose crossing would not be tolerated. The declaration did not deter Assad — and with good reason. Since he crossed it, gassing thousands, there have been no consequences beyond Obama’s ordering the Pentagon to consider military options.

Obama then went out of his way to assure the Syrians that whatever the U.S. did, it would be limited, narrow, temporary, not designed to affect the outcome of the war etc., etc. The administration let Assad know we’d be using Tomahawk cruise missiles and that the target would be his chemical weapons capacity, nothing more.

And, still, nothing happened. Following, not leading, Obama hoped that the British Parliament would give him leave to act. Once it refused, he was forced to ask for congressional permission, though he said he doesn’t really need it. But, exhibiting no urgency, he did not call for Congress to come back from vacation. It’ll be at least 10 more days until a vote.

Secretary of State John Kerry has made a forceful moral and strategic case for military action. Obama’s statements make it sound as though he thinks he’s merely fulfilling an unpleasant duty required by international law.

The only good news to emerge from the briefings the administration has given selected members of Congress is that, to win the support of Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., he’s apparently hinted that he might go further than just token bombing of chemical facilities.

McCain and Graham were ready to oppose him because his planned attacks were going to be so pathetically ineffectual. He won them back and McCain announced — correctly — that a congressional rejection vote would be “catastrophic.”

Still, opposition is building. Tea party Republicans are against action because they are proving themselves extreme isolationists. Other Republicans are against just because it’s Obama who’s asking — or because they think his handling of Syria demands a vote of  “no confidence.” Democrats are split, with a sizable flock of doves just against military action, period.

If Obama wins permission, he needs to surprise the Syrians and Iranians with attacks that punish and keep punishing, such as keeping Syrian warplanes out of the sky. The U.S. has been so weak up to now that Iran has every reason to think it can proceed apace with its nuclear weapons program despite Obama’s declarations that Iran would not be allowed to have a bomb.

If the Israelis attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, they probably will not succeed in destroying them, and Iran might well unleash Hezbollah on Israel — or worse. If the Israelis do not attack, Iran will have a nuclear shield behind which to commit overt and covert aggression all over the region.  Saudi Arabia will go nuclear and the world will be infinitely more dangerous.

Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for his declarations of worldwide good intentions. But good intentions and verbal declarations not backed by the skillful use of power rarely lead to peace. The prize was premature and ill-advised when it was awarded. Now, it’s a dismal joke.