Friday, August 19, 2011

US Statements of Support For Syrian Rebels: You're On Your Own

The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, with the Syrian military firing into crowds of demonstrators in Deir al-Zor and Deraa after Friday religious services.  The same reaction occurred yesterday in the port city of Latakia, and continues in other areas like Homs, suburbs of Damascus, Hama (the traditional center of opposition to the al-Assad hereditary regime), and elsewhere.  The number of protesters killed to date is estimated by some to be over 2000.

In contrast to the stumbling NATO response in Libya, which was launched to protect citizens there against the threat of harm, the response to the actual killing of Syrian citizens has been only diplomatic and economic, through official (though muted) protests and sanctions.  As usual, there has been little effect if any on the Syrian forces attacking their own people.  As I have often cited before, the history of effecting change within a country by only diplomatic and economic efforts has had very limited – practically negligible – success.

Today, though, in a coordinated effort with the governments of Canada, France, Germany, and the UK, the United States escalated the rhetoric with an announcement of freezing more Syrian assets in the US and, finally, a call for Bashar al-Assad to step down from power.  There is nothing to back up that demand, though – we’ve made sure during this most recent uprising in Syria, which arguably started last January, that we have no intention whatsoever of being a material threat to Assad. 

Last March we began a “kinetic activity” (a laughable Newspeak euphemism to avoid uttering anything remotely military-esque) in Libya, in what Obama promised would be an operation that would last “days, not weeks”.  This has since turned into a farcical wack-a-mole attempt to overturn the Qaddafi regime that has lasted for months.  When Hillary Clinton was asked last March about why we could justify an intervention in Libya but ignore Syria as a better example, she tried to stifle a laugh as she explained that there was no comparison.  Well, a comparison in the missions still exists nonetheless, now even more so, and it is telling that the administration refuses to address it in a realistic manner.

Yet in the case of Syria, we persist in the illusion that we are actually trying to accomplish something.  In his statement yesterday, Obama tries to sound somewhat bellicose, but his list of efforts to date is vacuous:
The United States opposes the use of violence against peaceful protesters in Syria, and we support the universal rights of the Syrian people. We have imposed sanctions on President Assad and his government.  The European Union has imposed sanctions as well.  We helped lead an effort at the UN Security Council to condemn Syria’s actions. We have coordinated closely with allies and partners from the region and around the world. The Assad government has now been condemned by countries in all parts of the globe, and can look only to Iran for support for its brutal and unjust crackdown.
Interesting phrasing – we will take on Libya, who has no real allies, but will shirk from intervening in Syria, who is backed by Iran.  That lesson is not lost on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any else in the Middle East.

But the key phrase to the Syrians is:
The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria.
As President Obama said this morning, no outside power can or should impose on this transition. . . . We understand the strong desire of the Syrian people that no foreign country should intervene in their struggle, and we respect their wishes.
Translation: You are on your own. 

So let me draw this all together in a coherent piece: The US intervenes with NATO in what amounts to a humanitarian mission in Libya, but we have botched it terrifically.  At the same time (yes, I strongly disagree with Clinton), there is an even greater humanitarian reason to intervene in Syria, but we do not.  And, with the announcements of yesterday, we still won’t.

Mind you, gentle reader, I am not advocating the ‘policeman of the world’ argument.  We have valid national interests to protect, and we must choose how we must carry out our responsibility for that.  Yet playing by the Democrats’ rationale of humanitarian interventions, they have confused observers who are trying to make sense of Obama’s abdication handling of foreign affairs.  He has amply demonstrated the lack of our government’s resolve to maintain a strong military through his downsizing of our presence abroad (even accelerating the process); downsizing the size and capability of our forces at home; showed a confused handling of our foreign commitments (starting immediately with his bungling of the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe); willingly participated in an embarrassing demonstration of our (and NATO’s) intervention capabilities in Libya; he has refused to consider any real material support to Syrians struggling against a deadly, repressive regime, as if ‘just words’ (even his) would be sufficient to carry the day; and he has emboldened our real/potential enemies (e.g., Syria, Iran, Russia).  He relies on diplomatic and economic cajolery while actively emasculating the military power – and resolve – that gives them any meaning whatsoever.

This makes Obama’s final remarks on Syria ominous:
It is time for the Syrian people to determine their own destiny, and we will continue to stand firmly on their side.
. . . just . . . not too close.

Update:  Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, a frequent supporter of Obama, is also losing patience and demands -- again -- some sort of coherence or a 'Obama Doctrine' for "governing the use of force to defend civilians against their own despotic governments".  I can't say that I agree with all he says (isn't it the Left who complain about America being the policeman of the world?), but I can understand his frustration. 

And why do we have to wait for Obama to articulate a doctrine all his own?  If you are looking for something resembling a doctrine, then I expect that we already have one, from John Kennedy: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

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