President Barack Obama. (Reuters/Larry Downing)
President Obama will probably launch several dozen cruise missiles into Syria in the next few days—without allies (except France, which seems to view Syria as a lost colony), without public support (polls show lukewarm backing at best for an attack and overwhelming opposition to another Iraq-style war), without much congressional support, and without the support of NATO, the Arab League or the United Nations.
Like a pathetic schoolyard bully who’s drawn a line in the sand and beats up people who cross it, Obama is going to war in Syria simply because he drew a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and President Assad flouted it. (Needless to say, it isn’t even clear if it was Assad who ordered the attack using a nerve agent, since at least some of the leaked intelligence shows that it was a local commander who intended the use to have much more limited, local effect, not a mass killing of hundreds.)
In Obama’s case, as is the case with many other bullies, he’s going to find that bombing Syria won’t restore America’s collapsing prestige and clout in the Middle East.
Take Syria: in 2011, Obama called for President Assad to leave office. He was ignored. In 2012, Obama warned Assad: don’t use chemical weapons. He was ignored. In 2013, he urged the Syrian rebels to attend a conference in Geneva aimed at ending the conflict, and the rebels ignored him, too. There are plenty more points of data where those came from, and not only in regard to Syria. In Egypt, virtually everything the United States has done since the start of the Arab Spring in that country in 2011 has been ignored, rejected, laughed at, ridiculed or politely (and not so politely) dismissed. Even Saudi Arabia, whose kleptocratic rulers have depended on the United States to protect their oily throne, have pretty much done what they want: invade Bahrain, prop up President Mubarak and then oust Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, fuel the rise of Islamist fighters in Syria.
So now it appears that the president of the United States will bomb Syria—against the advice, apparently of some quarters of the US military—in what’s guaranteed to fail to improve America’s standing in the region.
Obama, who says that the attack is designed in some vague way to bolster the international treaty and convention against the use of chemical arms, is meanwhile flouting plenty of other parts of international law. He doesn’t care. The administration says that even if the British parliament votes against war, even if the head of the United Nations says don’t do it, even if the Arab League (which backed the bombing of Libya) says it won’t support an attack on Syria, well, who cares? We’re America! We do whatever the hell we want. Or as The Washington Post put it:
The administration insisted Thursday that President Obama has both the authority and the determination to make his own decision on a military strike against Syria, even as a growing chorus of lawmakers demanded an opportunity to vote on the issue and Britain, the United States’ closest ally, appeared unlikely to participate.
And Obama doesn’t care about Congress’s objections, either. Someone, perhaps Nancy Pelosi—the noted military strategist who apparently out-hawked the Republicans on last night’s White House telephone consultation with members of Congress—is telling Obama that the bombing of Syria can easily be limited and contained. Maybe that’s true, but there are plenty of reasons to think that it will have cascading ill effects: causing Assad to dig in, leading the rebels to believe that they have US support, leading Iran and Russia to escalate their aid to Syria, undermining or destroying the chance of US-Iran talks, sending US-Russian relations deeper in the Cold War–like chill, leading to a new flood of refugees, boosting Islamist radicalism across the entire region and more.
And killing Syrian civilians. By telegraphing the attack, leaking details like crazy, Obama has given Assad plenty of time to disperse, decentralize and hide his chemical arms, evacuate likely targets such as command-and-control buildings, and prepare his defenses. But civilians have nowhere to hide.
Greg Mitchell documents the chorus of liberal hawks pushing for military intervention in Syria.