Just in case you were wondering if President Barack Obama is any different from, say, “President Mitt Romney” or some hypothetical “President Neocon,” the answer is: Yes. Proof: Syria.
Just take a glimpse at the hysteria of the neoconservatives about what ought to be done in Syria.
To be sure, at the outset there’s this disclaimer: since the start of the Syrian uprising, I’ve been extremely critical of Obama’s actions. When the protests against President Assad were still relatively peaceful and only limited government repression was reported, and when moderate, establishment-leaning (and non-Islamist) opposition figures were beginning to gather steam, Obama jumped the gun and called for Assad’s ouster. That was stupid enough. Since then, though, he’s placated Assad’s external enemies—among them Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who’ve backed Islamism from Tunisia to Afghanistan, and of course Israel—by encouraging, allowing and facilitating the supply of increasingly deadly weapons to the rebels. Some in the Obama administration seem enchanted by the idea that the fall of Assad will deal a huge blow to Iran, even though the United States ought to be fearful of a Sunni-Shiite war in the region that will spark renewed civil war in Iraq and Lebanon. And, of course, OP has seemed unwilling to truly engage Russia (and Iran) in search of a transition in Damascus.
But, to Obama’s credit, he’s resisted an Iraq-style war, a Libya-style no-fly zone/bombing scheme, and am Afghanistan 1980s-style proxy war so far. So far. By issuing “red line” comments on chemical weapons in Syria and by recognizing the illegitimate Syrian opposition bloc cobbled together in Qatar, he’s dancing on a slippery slope.
And the neoconservatives want to push him over the edge.
Writing in the ever-reliable Weekly Standard, Tom Donnelly of the neocon-infested American Enterprise Institute says: “The outcome in Syria will be determined first on the battlefield. If the United States remains militarily self-deterred, we’ll have little say in what happens in Syria. Or across the rest of the Middle East.” Donnelly’s AEI colleague Danielle Pletka, who is a regular bombs-away cheerleader, writing The Washington Post, slammed Obama for what she says is his apparently wishy-washy setting of a “red line” on chemical weapons:
As the control of Syria’s terrain has slipped from Assad’s grasp, there are reportedly indications that not only has Assad moved weapons stockpiles, he has ordered precursors for sarin nerve gas mixed in preparation for their use. As a result, the tough talk Obama embraced earlier has disappeared, as the leader of the free world and his staff contort themselves to explain that when the President earlier warned of “moving” chemical weapons as a “red line,” what he really meant was “proliferate”, not physically move. Ah.
Echoing Pletka’s disappointment that the United States won’t get to bomb or invade another Arab country over its WMD is the ever-ignorant Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), who someone got himself named as head of the House Intelligence Committee. At a recent hearing, according to The Cable, Rogers said Obama is too weak on Syria, since Obama has apparently said he’d intervene only if and when WMD, if they exist, are used:
Rogers set his own red line for U.S. military intervention at a different place than the administration of President Barack Obama here at the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue Friday evening. The administration has repeatedly and publicly warned that if Syrian President Bashar al Assad used his store of chemical and nerve agents, that would prompt an unspecified international response. Rogers said we can’t wait for that to actually happen. “As a coalition, we will have the moral obligation (to intervene) if we can say with even a moderate degree of certainty that these weapons have been prepared and are put in an arsenal for use,” Rogers said. “There are things that we should do, that would meet the world’s moral obligation to prevent the use of chemical weapons that would take the lives of tens of thousands and injure millions of Syrians.”
Peter Feaver, a feverish ex-official from the Bush administration, says that Assad won’t take Obama seriously unless he ratchets up the threat to bomb Syria or otherwise intervene with military force:
If Assad reasons the same way I have just done, he may conclude that what Obama means by military warnings about chemical red lines is simply Option 1: punitive strikes that don’t otherwise change the game. In other words, Assad may conclude that Obama’s threats are the least of his worries, given how desperate his situation is. Ironically, then, if the Obama administration really does want to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, it may have to threaten more credibly than it has so far a level of military intervention the President manifestly wants to avoid.
What Feaver really wants is what he calls Option 2: A “game-changing military operation that topples Assad regime: some combination of sustained strikes and other action (e.g., no fly zones) that tilts the military balance decisively in the rebels favor, hastening the fall of the Assad regime.”
And then there’s Porter Goss, the discredited former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who was appointed CIA director by President Bush to shut up the CIA when it opposed the invasion of Iraq. Goss is sad because he thinks it’s too late for the United States to do anything now. He told Fox News, according to The Hill:
Well, obviously there’s a huge problem in Syria, and the USA is the world’s most prominent power to deal with anything like that—actually, other people usually sit on the sidelines until we get involved one way or another—so I think that it’s very important for us to not just stand by. In fact it may be too little too late at this point, given the fact that over 40,000 people I’m told have been murdered or killed in events over there.
There’s lots more where that all came from, naturally. Perhaps the White House realizes that the fall of Assad could usher in chaos and extreme Islamism in Damascus, triggering new civil war momentum in both Iraq and Lebanon. It could also drag Iran and Turkey into a regional crisis even more than they’re now involved. Here’s hoping that Obama sits on his hands, and too bad if the Syrian rebels don’t like it.
While Republicans call for more involvement in Syria, they run scared from any interaction with the UN. Read Barbara Crossette’s take on the right-wing rejection of human rights.