The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Syria: Obama's Rwanda Moment

obama-assad

Besides the main battle in Syria—the rebels against Assad—there is also a nasty little war emerging among the rebels themselves, with the Kurds and moderates squaring off against the radical Islamists. Reuters reports:

Kurdish militants seized a Syrian border post on the frontier with Iraq early on Saturday, fighters and monitors said, after three days of clashes with an al Qaeda-linked group which had held the crossing since March.

The armed Kurdish group YPG told Reuters fighting carried on through the day and a senior security official on the Iraqi side of the crossing said he could hear gunshots, mortar fire and shelling.

The Yarubiya post and surrounding areas in the northeast were taken from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant rebel group, who had seized it from the army, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

There may come a time when a civil war between relatively organized factions turns into a generalized condition of anarchy and banditry over much of the country. With no political solution on the horizon, it’s hard to see anything good coming of it.

Future historians are likely to regard this as President Obama’s Rwanda moment: the United States chose not to make a difference back when it could have done with relative ease, and then watched in horror as a great tragedy unfolded. And just as the Rwanda massacre touched off a series of wars and mass murders that drew in neighboring states and is still convulsing the region after two decades of war, so the Syria disaster is likely to have horrible repercussions for many years to come.

There is, however, one difference between Rwanda and Syria. Because of geography, Syria is almost infinitely more important to the United States and its allies than Rwanda was. This time we didn’t just miss an opportunity for a humanitarian intervention; we missed a major strategic call to action.

[Obama photo courtesy Getty Images. Assad photo courtesy Wikimedia.]

Published on October 26, 2013 12:12 pm
  • lukelea

    Hey, in Rawanda all that was needed was a brigade or two of outside boots on the ground.

    • B-Sabre

      And we failed not only in that, but in providing tools to people willing to be in harm’s way – the Pentagon actively obstructed attempts to provide armored personnel carriers to UN troops already on the scene.

  • MRD1037

    Will president Obama be remembered for failing to act in Syria or for keeping American troops out of Syria.

    Logically, action and inaction has consequences. Psychologically it’s easier to feel sorry later for inaction than action.

  • DiogenesDespairs

    This Administration has failed to supply the moderate rebels with much more than lip service, and proposed bmbing the Assad regime – and has apparently done little or nothing to interdict supplies to the al-Qaeda groups who are said to be the best organized and best armed of the rebel groups. The net result of these policies is to improve the relative strength of the al-Qaeda groups vis-a-vis the other two sides.

    This is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing!

    WHY IS NOBODY NOTICING?!

    (Except, finally, American Interest, a little bit. Please give this major play. Imagine what would happen if the jihadists were to win!)

    • amcalabrese

      Why? Because it is not our war and not our business. We cannot afford to be the world police anymore and even if we were, we would be hated for it. I would rather be hated for doing nothing and not costing us one dollar or the bones of one of our soilders.

  • Pete

    1. Slick Willy’s reputation has not suffered from his Rwanda neglect. The international set still sucks up to him as does the elite establishment in the U.S. Fact.

    2. Mr. Mead implies it but does not specifically spell it out so let me.

    B.H. Obama’s ‘Rwanda moment’ has come and gone. This means that the time for intervention in the Syrian mess is past and no intervention is advisable.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I like the divide and conquer strategy, as long as Muslims are fighting each other, they will have fewer resources to use in attacking us. We should do what we can to focus them on each other and prolong the fight as long as possible.

    • http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/author/kwatson/ megapotamus

      Ah, finally a reasonable fellow.

  • Matt B

    I think it’s likely that historians will condemn Obama’s foreign policy on many counts. I also believe that Americans who are ignorant of history will continue to comprise the overwhelming majority of the US electorate.

    • Ray Nant

      “… Americans who are ignorant of history will continue to make up the overwhelming majority of the US Senate”

      ftfy

  • Bruce

    Just because it looks easy doesn’t mean it is. Obama is hapless, but staying out of these conflicts is advisable. Besides, we don’t have the money to intervene. We’re broke.

    • dwpittelli

      All that being true, it was foolish of Obama to claim that using chemicals was a “red line” bringing us in against Syria, when the near future would prove that using chemicals would on the contrary lead us to work cooperatively with Syria and Russia, easing up on Syria in return for removing the chemicals.

  • koblog

    “Obama’s Rwanda moment: the United States chose not to make a difference
    back when it could have done with relative ease, and then watched in
    horror as a great tragedy unfolded.”

    Hah. Nobody is watching, much less in “horror.” There’s a news media blackout. Didn’t you hear? Obama handed the problem to Putin. Case closed. On to amnesty for illegals.

    Obama is worshipped after Syria.
    Bill Clinton is worshipped after Rwanda and Blackhawk down Somalia. Hilary Rodham is worshipped after Benghazi. Heck, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank are revered after whole careers of corruption.

    To the media, Democrats can do no wrong. And “history” is told by Hollywood movies made by sycophants.

  • yourpillbill

    I’m no fan of BHO, however I don’t see how US air strikes and supplying arms to the rebels would prevent civil war between the various factions.

  • Michael Kochin

    In Rwanda the US sent Paul Kagame from Fort Leavenworth back to Rwanda and aided his army, the RPF. The RPF drove out the genocidaires and won the war.

    Since then, Rwanda has enjoyed stability, prosperity and peace. In Rwanda, US intervention helped stop the genocide and end the civil war, by helping the rebels to victory.
    I have not seen a plausible scheme to bring peace and prosperity to Syria, Have you?

  • teapartydoc

    Palin was right all along.

  • http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/author/kwatson/ megapotamus

    Absolutely wrong. On foreign policy I find myself in rare agreement with the President; pragmatically if not ideologically. Give war a chance! When death stalks the Muslim world, especially a death we do not have to build, pilot and send into the sky, all Americans should laugh and point. Death, death, death, death and yet more death is just what the doctor ordered. As for the genuine innocent bystanders, your innocence is a luxury you can no longer afford. Gun up and pal up with those who are sick of the jihadis. Be careful though. If they are Muslim they may be sick of Sunni jihad, or Shia jihad or just plain ol’ too corrupt jihad but their aim is still your conversion, subjugation or murder. So while they are killing each other, more power to them. Forward.

  • qet

    I continue to be greatly perplexed by the meme that Rwanda has become in the US, the idea that at very low risk/cost the US could easily have prevented the massacres. In Rwanda, thousands upon thousands of Hutu villagers picked up machetes and hacked their Tutsi co-villagers–children included–to death. This was no Shoah perpetrated by a professional bureaucracy augmented by a small corps of dedicated fanatics while the rest of the nation simply chose to look away. This was not genocide by stand-off weapons. In Rwanda, the ethnic grievances ran so deep that next-door neighbors by the thousands picked up swords and personally plunged their hands into the blood and guts of their neighbors. The notion that a regiment or two of blue-helmeted or BDU-clad white Western soldiers could have halted this event in its tracks is, to me, mind-boggling.
    Nothing–Syria included–mimics Rwanda in this regard, yet the grievances fueling the killing run very deep and I just don’t believe that Obama or anyone else, any other Westerner, anyway, could have done anything to prevent or mitigate it, other than a massive reinforcement of Assad’s regime at the moment the fighting broke out, which of course, had it been done, would have been seen as the worst policy imaginable, reminders of the lives saved notwwithstanding.