Foreign Policy / Middle East

The Ripple Effects of Obama’s Disastrous Syria Policy

Nearly everyone, regardless of personal political beliefs, will agree that President Obama’s stance(s) on Syria has been perplexing.  Syria’s conflict began back in March 2011 as a popular uprising during the Arab Spring.  As the conflict transformed into a civil war, rumblings grew for international intervention.  On August 20, 2012, Obama stated that his red line was “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”  So, last month, when the United Nations produced evidence showing chemical weapons were used on Syrian civilians, Obama saw his “red line” looming over him.  The spotlight was on him and Obama had to act.

And act he did.

Act One: Obama decreed that the U.S. would investigate the possibility of a military strike.  Of course, this military strike would not be a repeat of Afghanistan and Iraq because, unlike those two interferences, he would not put ‘boots on the ground.’  Realizing he would not have international support after the UK’s legislature vetoed interference in Syria, Obama brought the question to the American people through a congressional vote.

Act Two: Calling for a congressional vote enabled Obama to argue that under no circumstances was American intervention (or non-intervention) his fault—after all, he only complied with the wishes of the American people through their representatives.  If Congress voted in favor of intervention, Obama would pursue the military strike option in Syria and maintain his credibility.  If Congress voted against a military strike, Obama would blame House Republicans, and throw his hands in the air, declaring he did all he could do.  By bringing the decision to Congress, Obama made the situation a win-win for himself.

Act Three: A surprise hero arrived on scene and quickly pulled the President to safety with an announcement to sign a trilateral agreement among Russia, the United States, and Syria, to remove all Syrian chemical weapons and place them under international control by this November.  President Vladimir Putin was an unlikely hero, but Obama warmly embraced him and declared on ABC, “I welcome [Putin] being involved.”

Putin gave Obama a ‘diplomatic out’ from military intervention, allowing Obama to exit the stage with his credibility in tact.  The Syrian government, including Assad, do not have worry about international military intervention, buying themselves time to continue to fight the rebel forces.  Russia can maintain its stronghold in Syria, thus maintaining its only outlet into the Mediterranean Sea from the Middle East.  Win-Win-Win.

Except.  Now, due to the actions of our current President, the United States owes a political debt to Vladimir Putin.  Cold War history aside, no one would choose this man to be one’s creditor.  He represents a country and a group of people who increasingly dislike Americans.  Furthermore, in his New York Times op-ed, Putin stated “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” A veiled threat against America’s future foreign policy agenda, yet it took President Obama almost two weeks to respond. This is the person the United States owes a debt to.

So the questions remain: At what point will Putin collect his debt?  For what reason will Putin ask the United States for a favor?  And what democratic values will Americans sacrifice because President Obama forced our country into a corner with his thoughtless “red line”?

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