“I ask myself every single day, is there something I could do that would save lives and make a difference and spare some child who doesn’t deserve to suffer?” Obama said Friday. But there’s a lot he could’ve done in past years — which, unfortunately, he did not acknowledge.
Obama implicitly blamed Congress for not supporting intervention in Syria in 2013, when Assad committed a war crime by targeting civilians with nerve gas. However, Congress was never a deterrent for Obama. He’s proven, on several different occasions, that he’s willing to defy Congress to further his own aims.
What really tied Obama’s hands was his own hands-off policy in Syria, part of an effort to avoid derailing nuclear talks with the Iranian regime. Obama’s backing down from the red-line dealt a severe blow to American credibility and left a void that was quickly filled by Russia, which tried to pose as a peace broker in order to pursue its own political agendas.
Emboldened by Obama’s backdown, Iran continued its military and financial support for the Assad regime with renewed fervor, pouring billions of dollars and thousands of troops into the war-torn country.
Obama also alluded in his remarks that nothing short of full involvement of United States troops would have changed the situation, which he compared to the failed 2003 Iraq invasion. But a dissent memo filed by 51 U.S. diplomats in June suggested limited military measures could keep Assad in check and place the international community in a stronger position to seal a diplomatic solution.
The proposition was rejected because, as Fred Hof, former State Department policy planner on Syria, said, the administration’s main concern was that making Assad pay for mass murder would disenchant his Iranian patrons and threaten to scuttle the nuclear deal, the only red line Obama stayed true to during his tenure.
After the nuclear deal with Iran was forged, there was concern that Tehran would use the financial gains to further bolster Assad’s crumbling regime. But no serious safeguards were put in place to ensure Iran would not spend the economic bonanza on its terrorist ventures.
The Obama administration’s passivity in face of human slaughter prodded the Iranian regime to notch up its involvement in Syria and also draw Russia into the military mayhem to secure more gains.
Obama defended his decisions by stating that his first priority has to be “What’s the right thing to do for America?” He might think that he did the U.S. a great favor by standing on the sidelines as the disaster in Syria developed, while hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions were displaced.
But Obama’s non-intervention policy in Syria, aimed at preserving the Iran nuclear deal, allowed Tehran to drive a wedge in the region’s sectarian divide and give rise to the Islamic State, which is now threatening the U.S. on its own turf.
“I always feel responsible,” Obama said in his Friday remarks. “I felt responsible when kids were being shot by snipers. I felt responsible when millions of people had been displaced.”
I just wish Obama’s feeling of responsibility would have culminated into something tangible. There’s precious little Obama can do for Aleppo and Syria before he leaves office. But the next president should avoid repeating the same mistakes by holding the Assad regime accountable for its crimes and taking a tougher stance against Iran’s mischief in the region.