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How Obama faired in his Syrian policies? No involvement achievement?

This may be the most surprising of President Obama’s foreign-policy legacies: not just that he presided over a humanitarian and cultural disaster of epochal proportions, but that he soothed the American people into feeling no responsibility for the tragedy.

Fred Hiatt Editorial page editor September 6

Starvation in Biafra a generation ago sparked a movement.

Synagogues and churches a decade ago mobilized to relieve misery in Darfur.

When the Taliban in 2001 destroyed ancient statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, the world was appalled at the lost heritage.

Fred Hiatt is the editorial page editor of The Post. He writes editorials for the newspaper and a biweekly column that appears on Mondays. He also contributes to the PostPartisan blog. View Archive

Today the Islamic State is blowing up precious cultural monuments in Palmyra, and half of all Syrians have been displaced —

as if, on a proportional basis, 160 million Americans had been made homeless.

More than a quarter-million have been killed. Yet the “Save Darfur” signs have not given way to “Save Syria.”

One reason is that Obama — who ran for president on the promise of restoring the United States’ moral stature — has constantly reassured Americans that doing nothing is the smart and moral policy.

He has argued, at times, that there was nothing the United States could do, belittling the Syrian opposition as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth.”

He has argued that we would only make things worse — “I am more mindful probably than most,” he told the New Republic in 2013, “of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations.”

He has implied that because we can’t solve every problem, maybe we shouldn’t solve any. “How do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?” he asked (though at the time thousands were not being killed in Congo).

On those rare occasions when political pressure or the horrors of Syrian suffering threatened to overwhelm any excuse for inaction, he promised action, in statements or White House leaks: training for the opposition, a safe zone on the Turkish border.

Once public attention moved on, the plans were abandoned or scaled back to meaningless proportions (training 50 soldiers per year, no action on the Turkish border).

Perversely, the worse Syria became, the more justified the president seemed for staying aloof; steps that might have helped in 2012 seemed ineffectual by 2013, and actions that could have saved lives in 2013 would not have been up to the challenge presented by 2014.

The fact that the woman who wrote the book on genocide, Samantha Power, and the woman who campaigned to bomb Sudan to save the people of Darfur, Susan Rice, could apparently in good conscience stay on as U.N. ambassador and national security adviser, respectively, lent further moral credibility to U.S. abdication.

Most critically, inaction was sold not as a necessary evil but as a notable achievement:

The United States at last was leading with the head, not the heart, and with modesty, not arrogance.

“Realists” pointed out that the United States gets into trouble when it lets ideals or emotions rule — when it sends soldiers to feed the hungry in Somalia, for example, only to lose them, as told in “ Black Hawk Down,” and turn tail.

The realists were right that the United States has to consider interests as well as values, must pace itself and can’t save everyone.

But a values-free argument ought at least to be able to show that the ends have justified the means, whereas the strategic results of Obama’s disengagement have been nearly as disastrous as the human consequences.

When Obama pulled all U.S. troops out of Iraq, critics worried there would be instability; none envisioned the emergence of a full-blown terrorist state.

When he announced in August 2011 that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” critics worried the words might prove empty

Few imagined the extent of the catastrophe: not just the savagery of chemical weapons and “barrel bombs,” but also the Islamic State’s recruitment of thousands of foreign fighters, its spread from Libya to Afghanistan, the danger to the U.S. homeland that has alarmed U.S. intelligence officials, the refugees destabilizing Europe.

Even had Obama’s policy succeeded in purely realist terms, though, something would have been lost in the anesthetization of U.S. opinion.

Yes, the nation’s outrage over the decades has been uneven, at times hypocritical, at times self-serving.

But there also has been something to be admired in America’s determination to help — to ask, even if we cannot save everyone in Congo, can we not save some people in Syria?

Obama’s successful turning of that question on its head is nothing to be proud of.

The lengthy Realism on Syria:

Future generations will despise us for this politics

The same politics we applied with the rise of Nazism

When the people of the future look back at our time, there will be much wringing of hands at the west’s failure to stop the slaughter in Syria.

Liberal writers will bewail our “guilt” and “shame” (bewailing is what we liberals are best at, after all).

Readers will pat themselves on the back and say that they would never have behaved as we behaved; just as we look back on the Second World War and imagine we would never have collaborated if the Nazis had invaded.

Najat Rizk shared a link.
Even as hundreds of thousands of Syrians flee their homeland, western powers refuse to address the root cause for their flight|By Nick Cohen

By 2015, the Syrian civil war had lasted longer than the First World War.

Hundreds of thousands had died and 11 million had been driven from their homes, four million of them as refugees to foreign lands. (Out of a total population of 20 million)

On the one side was Bashar al-Assad, chief capo in a hereditary tyranny.

He joined Saddam Hussein in becoming one of only two leaders to have used chemical weapons against civilians since the end of the Second World War. (ISIS has been using chemical weapons for years now, and the US is still not serious about stopping these attacks)

In 2013, Barack Obama, the leader of the free world, no less, boomed: “What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?”

He then looked the other way. As did the British Labour party, which joined with the Tory right in defeating David Cameron’s attempt to punish Assad.

On the other side is Islamic State.

If you want a comparison to shame you, consider that at least 700 religious fanatics have left Britain to rape, murder and enslave in Syria at a time when the British government was pulling every trick it could think of to stop Syrians fleeing rape, murder and enslavement finding asylum here.

Here is a taste of the condemnations we can expect from the future.

Western leaders interpreted the “silence” about the massacres in Syria “as an indicator of public indifference”. They reasoned that they “would incur no costs” if they did nothing, but “face steep risks if they intervened”.

(Should have intervened against the Nousra Front of Al Qaeda in Syria, before Daesh got the upper hand)

For all their cries of “never again”, they accepted genocide and pretended it had nothing to do with them.

Except those quotes are from the past not the future. They come from Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a bleak account, published in 2003, of how from the Turkish massacre of the Armenians through to Saddam’s genocide of the Kurds, the unwritten rule of the US State Department was that America should look the other way.

I was hugely impressed by her breadth of scholarship, how she showed that it was always unpopular to state clearly that Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Kurds, Bosniaks and Tutsis were victims of the greatest of crimes; how there were always authoritative voices warning us against “overreaction” and insisting that the situation was more complicated than it seemed.

Those who blew the whistle lost their jobs but in their determination to speak out, they proved the truth of George Bernard Shaw’s maxim: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Obama was impressed too. He made Power America’s UN ambassador, where together they became reasonable – depressingly, shamefully, criminally reasonable – and stood by as the Syrian massacres escalated.

For understandable reasons, a half-truth became established during the presidency of George W Bush: America was the main source of conflict on the planet. If it stepped back and refused to intervene, the “root cause” of violence would vanish. Obama and Powers have tested that theory to destruction.

They have shown that, when the west does not intervene, other powers do.

Russia and Iran have ruthlessly pursued their national interest in keeping Assad in power: Iran because it wants a client Shia state; Russia because it wants to keep its Mediterranean base and show the world that no one messes with Putin.

No one in the west, or, rather, no one but the reckless, wanted an invasion of Syria. (Invasion? Didn’t learn from Iraq and Viet Nam? No other political alternatives?

They wanted no-fly zones and safe havens. A few realised that the Kurds had as much right to a state as the Palestinians and wanted western support for a Kurdistan, not least because the Kurds were doing most of the fighting against Islamic State.

They’ve got nothing.

The Kurds are now being attacked by our Nato ally Turkey. Safe havens remain a fantasy. And while western air forces are bombing Isis in a desultory war that seems to be doing no good at all, they allow Assad to drop barrel bombs on Syrian civilians.

Although Cameron has behaved more honourably than Labour, and has clearly agonised over the Syrian crisis, his agonies have not extended to providing the money our dilapidated armed forces would need to intervene.

Before power made her “reasonable”, Samantha Power knew why: western electorates don’t care. The mood in Britain in particular is now isolationist: anti-immigrant, anti-intervention, anti any measure that does not put “our own people first”.

I see no sign that the flood of refugees fleeing into Europe is changing minds. Liberals rightly criticise Cameron for not allowing enough into Britain, but hardly any have shown that they have the smallest inclination to tackle the “root cause” of their flight.

Now western governments hint that they are about to commit the final treason. They will either drop their demands that the butcher Assad must go or, more probably, quietly accept that he is a man they must do business with.

There’s an old argument between supporters of an ethical and of a “realist” foreign policy, but it does not arise on this occasion. The Sunni people of Syria will not turn on Isis so they can suffer again at the hands of a man responsible for gassing their families.

Isis will be able to say – with justice – that the west wants to turn you over to Shia, Hezbollah and Iranian militias. It will be able to say, again with truth, that the west is now the de facto ally of an Iran that wants to encircle and oppress you.

Sometimes, the ethical is also realistic: dealing with Assad is never going to work.

(Not dealing with Assad is the root of all the catastrophe. Now, after the failure of uprooting Assad, they want to discuss and dialogue with him. But the damage is done. And million of refugees will keep on the move to somewhere)




January 2023

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