Obama’s made his case last night for military action in Syria but given the recent developments with Putin and Assad, I’m sure it changed what Obama originally planned to say. I don’t know if Putin’s efforts will be successful but the Russian leader is right that the world cannot sustain a war right now. Obama is smart to give diplomacy a chance. He had no choice really. The president was facing an uphill battle trying to convince Congress and the American people that using force is the only option in Syria, or that we should even involve ourselves in yet another foreign conflict. Putin’s given him an out. If these efforts are successful, Obama won’t have to convince anyone to go to war. If diplomacy fails, no one can say the president didn’t try to avoid using violence.
Where Obama went wrong was how he distorted what we think we know about the conflict. In some parts he didn’t even make sense, which is dangerous in a high-stakes situation such as this. Although the report from the United Nations has yet to come back few dispute that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The burning question is by whom? The US insists circumstantial evidence implicates Assad since he has chemical weapons and there’s no indication the opposition has them. It’s widely known the US wants Assad out. I’m not saying I like Assad or that he’s innocent but this conflict is more complicated than we know. Assad is no angel, but those who oppose him aren’t innocent either. The reality is we don’t know if Assad used chemical weapons. He denies it, and even German intelligence is saying there’s no evidence he did. I’m not saying whether he did or didn’t use them, but the fact that we cannot prove he did undermines any argument that he should be punished militarily. We’ve been wrong before and it was catastrophic.
Last week pictures and video footage surfaced of the rebels lining up soldiers fighting for Assad and executing them with a machete. In response the US said saying the same as it always says, that although there are extremist elements of the opposition, the US is confident that our government can make sure we are only helping those who want a moderate democracy that respects all its citizens. The reality is that many Syrians like Assad. The people are very much divided. The thought that we can go into a country, facilitate in removing its leader and bolster the faction we like to control the country is a narcissistic conjecture, and very dangerous for international security. We did this in Africa, Latin America and Asia during the Cold War, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s hasn’t worked. It never works. This is why America has a bad reputation in many parts of the world.
If Assad is to be removed, it has to come from the Syrians own hand. They have to work this out for themselves and whether Obama wants to admit this or not, this is just like Iraq in the sense that if we strike militarily and things get worse we will not be able to just leave. As Fareed Zakaria said on GPS last Sunday, “you break it, you bought it.”