The White House has become increasingly defensive about the supposed benefits of its policy zigzags regarding the deepening crisis in Syria.
Syria’s humanitarian crisis is worsening; the Bashar al-Assad regime continues to get away with murder, supported by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah; and Washington remains committed to a diplomatic solution that would require the Assad regime to negotiate itself out of power, something that will never happen.
From the beginning, the Obama Administration was slow to recognize the depth of internal tensions inside Syria, the hostile nature of Assad’s regime, and the poor prospects for a political compromise that it sought to broker to end the fighting.
After calling for Assad to step down from power in August 2011, the Administration did little to achieve that end. President Obama overruled the advice of his own Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, CIA director, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of whom recommended that the U.S. should arm moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.
With the U.S. wringing its hands on the sidelines and other Western states also refusing the rebels’ requests for arms, the balance of power within the rebel coalition dramatically shifted in favor of Islamist militants funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Arab oil kingdoms.
Al-Qaeda forces have grown much stronger, particularly in northern Syria, and are fighting with rival rebel nationalist, moderate Islamist, and Kurdish groups for control of territory.
When the Obama Administration finally decided to provide arms to Syrian rebels in June, it did so primarily as a response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. But the regime continued to use its illegal chemical weapons. And the arms, now trickling into Syria, are likely to be too little too late.
In August, a massive chemical attack prompted the Obama Administration to threaten air strikes to enforce the President’s red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons. But once again, President Obama over-promised and under-delivered.
Before the Administration could launch its threatened air strikes, which probably would have made a bad situation even worse, it once again zigzagged. Russia exploited the opportunity afforded by an offhand remark by Secretary of State John Kerry to launch a diplomatic initiative to disarm Syria’s chemical arsenal while rescuing the Assad regime from the potential dangers of U.S. air strikes and re-establishing itself as a major player in the Middle East.
It’s no wonder that the Obama Administration increasingly feels defensive about its dysfunctional and feckless Syria policy.