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President Obama's Foreign Policy
Following are the latest statistics from the UN Refugee Agency with regards to the war in Syria.
Turkey 642,482 Syrian refugees (as of 3/20)
Lebanon 974,434 (3/18)
Jordan 587,308 (3/23)
Iraq 226,934 (3/5)
Egypt 135,336 (3/23)
Back in January, New Yorker Editor David Remnick had a terrific piece titled “Going The Distance: On and off the road with Barack Obama.” It’s lengthy but if you haven’t read it it’s definitely worth looking up. [I would have noted this earlier but Ukraine interrupted.]
Remnick questions the president and his staff on his foreign policy, among other topics, and I was struck by Obama’s musings on Syria and the catastrophic war there, that not only has resulted in the above staggering refugee figures, but also another 6,500,000+ Syrians who have been internally displaced. 9 million+, therefore, that have been displaced total, let alone a death toll that is officially 140,000, including thousands of children.
“Obama’s lowest moments in the Middle East have involved his handling of Syria. Last summer, when I visited Za-atari, the biggest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, one displaced person after another expressed anger and dismay at American inaction. In a later conversation, I asked Obama if he was haunted by Syria, and, though the mask of his equipoise rarely slips, an indignant expression crossed his face. ‘I am haunted by what’s happened,’ he said. ‘I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern war. It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq. And when I hear people suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.
“ ‘It’s not as if we didn’t discuss this extensively down in the Situation Room. It’s not as if we did not solicit – and continue to solicit – opinions from a wide range of folks. Very early in this process, I actually asked the C.I.A. to analyze examples of American financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much. We have looked at this from every angle. And the truth is that the challenge there has been, and continues to be, that you have an authoritarian, brutal government who is willing to do anything to hang on to power, and you have an opposition that is disorganized, ill-equipped, ill-trained, and is self-divided. All of that is on top of some of the sectarian divisions... And, in that environment, our best chance of seeing a decent outcome at this point is to work the state actors who have invested so much in keeping Assad in power – mainly the Iranians and the Russians – as well as working with those who have been financing the opposition to make sure that they’re not creating the kind of extremist forces that we saw emerge out of Afghanistan when we were financing the mujahideen.’
“At the core of Obama’s thinking is that American military involvement cannot be the primary instrument to achieve the new equilibrium that the region so desperately needs. And yet thoughts of a pacific equilibrium are far from anyone’s mind in the real, existing Middle East. In the 2012 campaign, Obama spoke not only of killing Osama bin Laden; he also said that Al Qaeda had been ‘decimated.’ I pointed out that the flag of Al Qaeda is now flying in Falluja, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria; Al Qaeda has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too.
“ ‘The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,’ Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. ‘I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian....
“He went on, ‘You have a schism between Sunni and Shia throughout the region that is profound. Some of it is directed or abetted by states who are in contests for power there. You have failed states that are just dysfunctional, and various warlords and thugs and criminals are trying to gain leverage or a foothold so that they can control resources, populations, territory.... And failed states, conflict, refugees, displacement – all that stuff has an impact on our long-term security. But how we approach those problems and the resources that we direct toward those problems is not going to be exactly the same as how we think about a transnational network of operatives who want to blow up the World Trade Center. We have to be able to distinguish between these problems analytically, so that we’re not using a pliers where we need a hammer, or we’re not using a battalion when what we should be doing is partnering with the local government to train their police force more effectively, improve their intelligence capacities.’
“This wasn’t realism or idealism; it was something closer to policy particularism (this thing is different from that thing; Syria is not Libya; Iran is not North Korea).”
It’s also hopelessly naïve and, in part, incredibly disingenuous. We will be paying for Obama’s failed foreign policy for generations to come, Syria being the prime example.
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