The recent threat of military action against Assad’s Syrian forces because of the use of chemical weapons to kill 1,429 Syrian civilians raises more questions. The questions are why at this time, what was the result sought, how was that to be accomplished, and what is the effect on the US?
The first question is the one I find most disturbing. In the Syrian civil war, over 110,000 deaths have occured. Prior to the use of chemical weapons, there was a lot of talk, but no threats of military action, so why is the death of the 1,429 due to gas the trigger for Tomahawk missles?
My first thought is that Obama realy did think differently over the use of gas. His “redline” reflected this feeling. He finds this particularly horrific, but how about the dead 110,000, isn’t this also horrific? (A friend suggested to me that if Obama thought killings by gun fire were horrific, he would bomb Chicago, but that’s a separate issue.) I have a dislike for gas, as you can’t avoid it and the death is particularly painful. The President’s “redline” comment may have been a reaction to this same fear. So the answer to the question, Why at this time?, is that the President reacted visceraly to the use of gas and the photos of dead children. He shouldn’t have done so, but he did.
That raises the next question, What was the result sought? It seems this was never figrured out at the White House or Foggy Bottom (State Department). Launching cruise missles from destroyers does not change nations as the impact is, as John Kerry pointed out and Bill Clinton found out, incredibly small. A Predator drone strike on Assad’s home would have sent a different, but more precise message. Furthermore, Obama said his goal was not regime change. So what was it? Was he trying to degrade the Syrian military so that the al Queda led opposition could prevail? I guess not as that is regime change.
What has been the effect of this event? First, we have alllowed the clever Vladimir Putin to emerge as the alpha male in the Mid East and that is a major change. We want the US President to be the alpha, but American influence there and in the world, is vastly diminished. If the
President can threaten Assad cver his use of chemical weapons, be faced down by the Russians, and have his action rejected by the Congress, he has no power anywhere. This is a major threat to US influence and our world position. Obama said he would fundamentaly change the US, and he has done so.
Does this now mean that any leader, say in Venezuela, can use chemical weapons, and fear naught from the US? I think that is the outcome of this matter. The President conducts foreigh policy, but now that is subject to Russian approval and congressional agreement. A significant degrading of his regime.
What is the danger from this degraded position? A President will attempt to restore his luster and to do so, he must take action somewhere. His instinct ante is to not do anything that’s why he did not send aircraft to protect our Ambassador in Benghazi. His visceral reaction to the gassed kids in Syria put him in an image protection mode that was dashed on the rocks. He will think of something and that is problematic. He has already threatened the Iranian government, for example. There is also the domestic consideration that rattling sabers in the Middle East distracts from the real domestic problems we have to deal with. That may be the major focus for Obama, who is first a domestic politician facing a congressional election in just over a year.
The Syrian threat is now over and Assad has prevailed and has empowered his Russian ally. This story will end with the end of the Syrian Civll War but the effect on our Presidency will linger for a long time. Even our al Queda allies in Syria have voiced displeasure with Obama, and that is something I never thought I would write.