“Despite our best efforts”? So ineffectual was this guy’s Syria policy that alumni of his administration felt obliged to praise Trump publicly after his symbolic strike on one of Assad’s airfields last month. Remember?
“Great move.” “Brilliant.” “Finally!” were some of the comments I heard from veteran foreign policy hands in both parties Friday morning…
“Our administration never would have gotten this done in 48 hours,” one former senior official of the Obama administration told me. “It’s a complete indictment of Obama.”
“I feel like finally we have done the right thing,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as Obama’s first-term chief of policy planning at the State Department and long publicly urged a more forceful response to Assad’s horrific attacks on civilians during the six years of war that have wracked Syria, told me. “The years of hypocrisy just hurt us all. It undermined the U.S., it undermined the world order.”
That’s what people still haunted by their boss’s failure to enforce a red line against WMD sound like. Here’s a reminder from 2015 of what qualified as “best efforts”:
Last year, in a move that was more symbolic than serious, Obama asked Congress for money to fund a programme allowing US personnel to teach rebels marksmanship, navigation and other skills.
The goal was to train about 15,000 rebels in Jordan and other countries so they could return to Syria and fight. However, US defence officials admitted last month that only four or five of the recruits in the programme had actually returned to the battle.
When asked around that same time by Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” about ceding U.S. leadership in the Middle East to Putin and Russia, Obama replied with a straight face, “My definition of leadership would be leading on climate change.” That’s what “best efforts” means.
One more reminder. Who said this, laying blame for the rise of ISIS squarely in Obama’s lap?
Pelley observed that Obama’s national security team was “virtually unanimous” on the need to arm Syrian rebels – advice the president ignored. [X] kindly conceded that Obama was concerned over where those weapons provided to Syrian rebels might end up, but the former CIA director summed his own position as, “You have to begin somewhere.”
“I think that would’ve helped,” [X] said of the aborted plan to arm moderate opposition in Syria. “And I think in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS.”
That would be … Leon Panetta, Obama’s own defense secretary. The “best efforts” blather is nonsense even to O’s own cabinet.
Here’s all I ask. If he wants to defend his Syria policy — or non-policy, really, since there effectively was no strategy during his second term — he should do it on the merits. Point one: There are no “good guys” there. Throw in with Assad and you’re pushing Iran’s agenda, throw in with the Sunni opposition and you’re apt to end up arming ISIS or Al Qaeda. When a game has no winning moves, the only way to “win” is not to play. Point two: Because there are no good guys there, putting U.S. boots on the ground is a non-starter. They’ll be caught fighting a two-front war inside a single country, a quagmire to end all quagmires. Without troops in the field, there’s only so much you can do to affect a war in which other mid-major powers are all-in. Point three: Obama’s view of Syria was always, always colored by his quixotic pursuit of detente with Iran, starting with a nuclear deal. If he had brought U.S. power to bear against Assad in any meaningful way, it would have spoiled whatever meager relationship Washington had with the mullahs and ended Obama’s dream of a big nuclear sellout in the name of “peace.” Thank goodness we avoided that.
All he has to do is be honest about all of that. Just own it. Instead, he’s stuck in “humanitarian interventionist” mode, lecturing about how we’re all connected and what happens over there matters over here and blah blah blah. He wants the public to applaud him as an internationalist who’s willing to bring force to bear in defense of human rights even though his actual policy was modest, parochial, and (in its ambitions towards Iran) highly naive. Hence, “best efforts” instead of “actual results.” Does literally anyone believe it?