After nearly two-and-a-half years of dithering, President Barack Obama finally
seems poised to take action against the thuggish regime of Bashar
When the Syrian military attacked rebel-held suburbs of Damascus
last week with chemical weapons, killing hundreds of innocent people in what US
Secretary of State John Kerry labeled a “moral obscenity,” Washington could no
longer ignore calls that it intervene.
Not since Saddam Hussein rained
poison gas down on the Kurds of Halabja in northern Iraq in March 1988, has a
Middle Eastern leader made such brazen use of chemical weapons against
Allowing such an incident to go unpunished would clearly set a
dangerous precedent, paving the way for rogue regimes around the world to employ
fearful weapons with impunity. Hence, if and when the US and its allies do
strike Syria, they deserve our full backing and support.
international wrath has justifiably been aimed at Assad and his minions for
their malevolent and indiscriminate slaughter, there is a troubling question
related to this latest turn of events which few seem prepared to tackle: just
how much responsibility does Obama himself bear for what happened? After all, by
ignoring Assad’s previous atrocities, and even his use of chemical weapons
earlier this year, didn’t the president’s inaction serve to encourage further
escalation? Since March 2011, the dictator of Damascus has been waging a
deliberate campaign of homicide against his opponents, be they real or
Upholding his father’s lethal legacy, young Bashar has shown no
compunction about slaughtering his own people in his attempt to crush the
uprising against him.
As a result, more than 100,000 Syrians have been
killed and another two million have been turned into refugees since fighting
flared between loyalists and opponents of the regime. This carnage was greeted
with little more than hand-wringing by Washington, which found itself unwilling
to become involved in another foreign entanglement, particularly one which
pitted bad guys (Assad & co.) versus other bad guys (al-Qaida-dominated
But it was Obama himself who then drew a line in the sand,
clearly demarcating the ostensible limits of American patience.
that at a news conference back on August 20, 2012, Obama told reporters, “We
have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the
ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical
weapons moving around or being utilized.”
That, the president insisted,
“would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
enough, eight months later, in April 2013, reports surfaced that Assad had used
Sarin nerve gas against the rebels. The White House even issued a statement on
April 25 saying that US intelligence believed “with varying degrees of
confidence” that Syria had deployed chemical weapons on a “small scale.” The
British Foreign Office went even further, declaring that, “Material from inside
Syria tested positive for sarin.”
Despite this unabashed crossing of his
“red line,” Obama did nothing. He hemmed and hawed until the issue faded from
public view. But Assad clearly got the message. He saw that his atrocious
actions were met by American inaction. And clearly the Damascene despot
understood that he could literally get away with mass murder.
Republican Sen. John McCain noted this week, “Assad was able to use chemical
weapons before and there was no response, and so why not do it again?” “This
should surprise no one,” McCain said, adding, “They viewed that not as a red
line but as a green light, and they acted accordingly.”
McCain has a
point. In a world where many countries still look to the United States for
leadership, what Washington chooses not to do is often as important as what it
does. By electing to sit on the sidelines for months on end and failing to
uphold his own “red line,” Obama projected weakness and a lack of will, which
Assad interpreted as a license to pull the trigger. The inescapable conclusion
to be drawn is that the current crisis is a direct result both of Assad’s action
and Obama’s impotence.
At this point, the question of whether to strike
Damascus is no longer just about Syrian chemicals. It is about American
credibility and whether the sole remaining superpower still has the moxie to
stand by its word and maintain and preserve global order.
I don’t envy
the position in which Obama now finds himself or the choices he is being forced
to make. But as the leader of the free world grapples with how to react, he
should take a moment to consider just how much it was his own failings which
gave rise to our present predicament.
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