Syria's Chemical Weapons and the Obama Administration
Despite the fact that UN inspectors were in Syria conducting tests on the possible use of chemical weapons, Syrian President Bashar Assad launched another lethal chemical attack on his own people on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Killing more than 1,000 Syrians, and wounding at least 6,000, there seemed to be no rationale behind Assad’s decision to use such brazen force against his own population. Why did he do it?
He must have been aware that chemical weapons, by law, have been internationally banned from all battlefields. He had already received world condemnation, as did his father, after previous use of chemicals on the Syrian people. Yet, this did not stop Assad. With only a verbal threat from the U.S., and no military action to back it up, Assad must have assumed he had nothing to lose in trying to establish a further grip on his territory… this time, the Sunni town of Ghouta. He wanted to firm up his control over the Sunni rebels by poisoning the citizens living there.
Assad’s display of brutal power over the Syrian people (including women and children) was the worst unleashing of WMD’s in 25 years. The last similar chemical attack was in 1988, when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gassed 3-5,000 Iraqi Kurds.
According to Syrian opposition forces, this latest attack by Assad was a game changer. Calling him, “Assad the Chemist”, the rebels said that the Syrian president could no longer be considered a player in the future destiny of Syria.
Meanwhile, the United States has had no choice but to lead a Western coalition of forces against Assad for this ruthless aggression, even if such military action is more symbolic than anything else. Preventing any further violence by Assad could deter other rogue regimes or extremist groups from thinking they could get away with using WMD’s against those who oppose them.
Unfortunately, as part of his failed Middle East policy, U.S. President Barack Obama chose to threaten Assad with a “red line” only in the use of chemical weapons. Obama should have considered action against the ruthless Syrian dictator long ago — before the current Syrian toll of 120,000 dead and more than 200,000 wounded; before 20% of the population was displaced; before a million children were forced to flee; before millions of Syrians were on the move trying to find safer living quarters in neighboring countries.
Obama dragged his feet and did not intervene in Syria when conditions were ripe for U.S. influence in the region; when America could have had the most impact on the Syrian government. Obama may have had a direct role in helping to solve the Syrian crisis if he had tried to get more involved when Assad was weak and vulnerable. Now, because of jihadists and other extremists filling the vacuum in Syria, current U.S.-led reprisals against Assad might backfire. The result of U.S. military power against the Syrian regime could look like Obama is trying to topple Assad and prop up the Sunni rebels… even those directly supported by Al-Qaida and jihadi sympathizers. This would not go over well with Americans who still see Al Qaida as the greatest enemy of the United States.
Surely, Obama’s foreign policy advisors are grappling with the fact that his administration has undermined America’s central role in the Middle East, which it had previously secured over decades of diplomacy and strength. The U.S. was the superpower that had the finances and military might to sway its Arab allies in the region towards its foreign policy goals… shaping and guiding moderate Arab regimes. That role has deteriorated since Obama took over the White House. His decision that America would join but not lead the military coalition against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya; his perceived support of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt; the U.S. State Department’s blunder in Benghazi; fruitless talks with Iranian leaders since early 2012 over Iran’s nuclear program; and, Obama’s passivity in the Syrian crisis -- all has not bode well in the U.S. or in the Arab world. The Obama Administration’s missteps have brought American influence in the region to a historic low.
Now, the U.S. response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons is an 11th hour test of Obama’s credibility. It’s a test for his foreign policy makers as to whether Washington will have the ability to influence future global events, especially those involving Middle East regimes.
Questions remain: Will U.S. military intervention in Syria deter Assad? Will it alter the course of events and begin to bring stability to the beleaguered nation? Will a stronger U.S. military presence in the Middle East restrain Iran in its expansionist goals? Will a Western coalition of forces end up boosting the morale of Islamic extremists, such as Al-Qaida? The goal of establishing an Islamic State that knows no boundaries is still the quest of radicals -- within both the Sunni and Shiite populations.
It is hard to know the outcome of these current events. What is clear is that, in the future, Assad will attempt to escalate the civil war in Syria that has been going on for 2.5 years. His only concern will be to protect his family, carve out some territory for his Alawite sect, and save face in his fight against Sunni opposition forces. He will be driven to accomplish these goals even if it means the complete break-up of his nation.
The daily murder and torture of the Syrian people; the displacement of the population; the threats of the international community – none of it has impeded Assad’s determination to have his own way in what is left of the remnants of his country. Nothing has tired this emboldened nefarious leader.
Questions remain whether a U.S. led bombardment of Assad’s military operations will be strong enough to force him to stop the mass killings; or to restrain him from inflicting more suffering on his own people.
American policy in the Middle East has been confusing under Obama’s presidency. His administration has failed to implement America’s declared democratic and moral values in the region. It has not freed the oppressed; stopped the harming of innocent people; or dealt with the Arab Spring in a way that shows America’s historic strength — not just militarily and diplomatically, but socially.
America has always been a nation that cared for the world’s hurting. Compassion and mercy has always been the stalwart of the American people. May that kindness and generosity return to the Middle East during this litmus test, as the U.S. intervenes in the Syrian crisis. May America eventually help the Syrian people and nation rebuild.
“In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 17:7
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.
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