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Obama's Syria Policy
Two Years of Failure

America’s Syria policy has been a series of disasters, errors and own goals, humiliating President Obama, devastating his credibility across the region, reducing chances for both a good deal with Iran and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Oh, and it’s also paved the way for mass death and serial atrocities in Syria.

Mostly, the MSM has tried to avert its eyes from the succession of blunders and costly missteps. The WSJ has challenged this approach with a damning account of the administration’s Syria strategy from its beginnings in 2011 to today, and the picture it paints is accurate—which is to say, ugly. The administration was one step behind its opponents every step of the way, and missed no opportunity to misjudge its opponents, anger its allies, or waffle on a policy while facts on the ground passed it by. The embarrassing public reversals on Assad’s removal and “red lines” over chemical weapons were bad enough, but mistakes were made behind the scenes too:

Mr. Obama had balked at providing arms to the opposition in 2012. But in April, he secretly authorized a small CIA program to provide weapons to hand-picked moderate fighters in limited quantities, a strategy designed to reduce the risk that they could fall into the hands of Islamists. […]

The program, at the time, was meant to turn out between 50 and 100 new fighters a month. Overwhelmingly outgunned, they would be up against thousands of Hezbollah fighters in Syria, and thousands more trained and equipped by Iran and al Qaeda.

Within the CIA, many analysts, including Mr. Morell, agreed the odds were bad, given the mismatch in commitments, officials said. Mr. Nasrallah had gone all in; the same couldn’t be said of the Americans, these officials said.

This is only one small piece  of the puzzle: the piece deserves a full read. Overall, it reveals an administration whose reluctance to commit one way or another—either to stay out or to aid the rebels—has eroded the ability of the U.S. to have much of an impact on the conflict going forward. Now both sides are digging in for a war that could drag on for decades, empower a new generation of global jihadis, and threaten the security and well being of Europeans as well as Middle Easterners.

It’s a good thing we have a Democrat in the White House; otherwise the entire MSM and foreign policy establishment would be howling in rage and frustration over the serial policy failures and intelligence mistakes detailed in this account of the Obama administration’s record in Syria. Also, the President should thank his stars that Samantha Power is working for him as otherwise he’d be getting lambasted for fecklessness in the face of mass murder. 

The sharpest criticism ex-officials level at their former colleagues in the Obama White House is that foreign policy in this administration is more about short term political interest and perception management than about substantive and serious pursuit of American national interests. That’s a little unfair; all presidents need to think about maintaining a base of support for their policies and the technocratic dream that we could have a ‘politics free foreign policy’ ignores the enduring realities of democratic governance. Nevertheless, the more closely one inspects America’s record in Syria, the more costly and the more feckless our policy appears.

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  • rheddles

    Obama is not stupid; incompetent, yes, but stupid, no. So, watching all this I have to ask what is the motivation?

    From the Obamacare fiasco we know there is no limit to the incompetence and arrogance of this administration. But at least it was motivated by an understandable, if naive and childish, desire to see that everyone be protected from the cost of medical care. But what is he trying to do in the Middle East and why?

    Amerika has traditionally sided with Israel and Saudi Arabia. It overthrew the Mossadeq regime in Iran and supported the evil regime of the Shah. Obama wants to right this wrong and support the underdog in the ME against the tools of American power, So he is attempting to do a Nixonian shift and play the Shia card. It is as naive and childish as Obamacare, and will cause more damage.

  • TommyTwo

    Here’s another WSJ article (“As Syrian Chemical Attack Loomed, Missteps Doomed Civilians”) that I’ve had trouble getting out of my mind. Pretty good fodder for “Why do they hate us?”

    [Behind the WSJ paywall;.]

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I see the Obama incompetence in the middle-east, as more favorable than many realize. With the end of the Bush strategy of attempting to force change on the backward Arab Islamic Culture with the imposition of Democracy, a new strategy must take its place. And as is common in US foreign policy, where the US falls into a pile of Dung and comes out smelling like a Rose. The new strategy is the low cost strategy of “Divide and Conquer”, with the Sunnis and the Shiites focusing all their resources on killing each other, and having little left over for attacking the US and the West. This is a great strategy used for centuries by the Byzantine Empire to keep the Barbarians occupied and out of the Empire.

    With the American will spent trying to impose Democracy on a mostly intransigent Islamic Culture, there really isn’t any other strategy open to the West.

    Cultures change at glacial speeds, and the West will now have to be patient and wait for Islamic Culture to adopt purple fingers as a more legitimate form of government.

    • rheddles

      It’s hard to see how handing the Levant to Russia and Persia constitutes divide and conquer.

      And we should be more interested in policies that preserve peace than promote change.

      • Kavanna

        Russia is economically stagnant and in demographic collapse. Putin is a shell game. Just watch the Olympics, and you’ll see.

        • rheddles

          I agree with everything you say, which makes handing the Levant over to Russia all the more stupid a move. Why would a not stupid person so such a stupid thing?

      • Jacksonian_Libertarian

        How can you say this is handing the Levant to Russia and Persia? Nothing has been settled yet, the Sunnis have DEEP pockets. And peace is overrated, and not a part of the “Divide and Conquer” strategy. I expect heavy logistical support to the Syrian rebels in the form of men, material, and money, from the Sunni dominated states.

  • TheCynical1

    Israel seems curiously quiet about Syria (cf. Iran), while American commentary seems curiously quiet . . . about the fact that Israel is curiously quiet (e.g., this WSJ article does not mention Israel once). Does this suggest that Israel sees Syria as a lower-priority issue — and if so, are they wrong.

    • rheddles

      It suggests Israel has made its thoughts known in private and sees no value in taking the issue public. Especially when it is reevaluating its relationship with the US.

      • Kavanna

        That’s more due to the WSJ’s generally strange coverage/non-coverage of the Middle East. The Murdochs own Dow Jones, the parent of the WSJ. While Rupert evidently doesn’t care, his son is tight with the Gulf kingdoms and does not like Israel. So their coverage of the region has a very Gulf-centric tone. Israel is strangely absent. The reporting and editorial staff seem to be suffering from hesitancy or fear of broaching anything broader.

        The Murdochs are distancing themselves from their print assets. My hope is that they will divest themselves of DJ altogether, and the WSJ can go back to its robust defense of Israel and provide a less truncated coverage of the region.

  • Anthony

    Adam Garfinkle’s June post provides more context – Talkin’ Syria intervention – to above Feed.

  • B-Sabre

    You need to parenthesize that headline with (and Counting) at the end.

  • Kavanna

    There’s no more ridiculous series of gratuitous and unforced errors in the history of US foreign policy. It’s a result of the toxic mix of Obama’s governance: ignorance, incompetence, and narcissism. He’s a pseudo-intellectual empty suit. All that’s left is his Chicago gang of provinicial, malicious hacks.

    • Guest

      Thank you.

  • Blaton Hardey

    While 2013 was a good year for me personally, thinking about the big picture of what’s going on in the world sickens me and makes me bitter. My innermost beliefs and desires are in line with what I think are traditional, libertarian American values (although this might be wishful thinking). So even while I’ve never even been to America, I feel like it’s my country (and it certainly will be on paper, in the foreseeable future). But right now, it feels like I watch the ship sink as I dream about boarding it. The big, beautiful ship. What makes America beautiful to me is not democracy but the idea of an independent and free life. America needs to acknowledge it is an empire. The American Empire is (as corny as it sounds) the single (!) most important safeguard of Liberty, a fragile and abstract and infinitely precious good (and considering the basic traits of man, an unlikely phenomenon). I don’t blame the current administration for its arrogance, policy failures and botched interventions. I think all this perfectly represents the state of affairs in America as a whole. Ideological confusion, no deep sense of what America should be, neither now or down the line. Every chickenshit policy is hysterically and emotionally debated, but rarely the greater purpose is discussed. Same goes for strategy. Anyone who tries to find strategy in America’s foreign policy these days (these years? decades?) could as well try to decipher the gestures of the sign-language interpreter next to the POTUS at Mandela’s funeral. I think no other moment epitomizes the cultural state of affairs in America as plainly as this one. This might sound patronizing and endlessly arrogant, but I worry about America like a son about his aging, alcoholic mother. Miss Liberty is still beautiful. God bless.
    If anyone bothers to respond to this post, it will most likely be to point out my naiveté and unsophisticated views and that things are a actually a lot more nuanced… Well yeah. But then close your eyes and imagine the world without America.

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