Hezbollah supporters celebrate the fall of the Syrian town of Qusair to forces loyal to President Assad.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are about to get a big win in Syria. Nearly two years after President Obama declared, “The time has come for President Assad to step aside,” Bashar al-Assad has gained the upper hand, and his forces are battering the disorganized, mostly Islamist opposition. It’s not too late for the United States to salvage something out of its absurdly bungled Syria policy, but they’ll have to move fast.
David Ignatius, writing in The Washington Post, portrays the American policy toward Syria’s rebels as just the latest is a long line of opposition movements, rebel groups and dissidents “seduced and abandoned” by the United States since the Cold War:
The story playing out now in Syria is so familiar that it’s almost a leitmotif of U.S. foreign policy. Washington wants to see a change of government so it encourages local rebels to rise up. Once these rebels are on the barricades, policymakers often get cold feet, realizing that they lack public support. This process happened in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the Prague Spring of 1968, the contras program in Nicaragua in 1984. It happened in Lebanon, Laos, southern Iraq . . . make your own list.
Ignatius has a point, although in none of those cases would it have been a good idea for the United States to intervene militarily to back up the opposition. Invade Hungary in 1956? Cuba in 1961? In the case of the rebels in southern Iraq—and here, Ignatius means those who revolted in 1991 after the Gulf War—we indeed did find out what happens when we put our armed forces where our mouth is.
Obama, who announced that the United States would supply arms to the Syrian rebels on June 13, is apparently having second thoughts. So are the British, who are backing off.
Earlier this week, in a post called “Syria Plan Blows Up in Obama’s Face,” I noted that everything that might have gone wrong in Syria for the United States has gone wrong. Obama is to blame for that: he called for Assad to quit, backed the rebels with words, set various Red Lines and teetered onto slippery slopes, and now finds himself in a situation in which the United States faces a massive strategic defeat by Assad and his Russia-Iran-Hezbollah backers. I’ll give Obama credit for resisting calls from inside his own administration to go all-in, but he’s still created a mess.