This blistering editorial at the Washington Post carries the headline, “Obama’s Syria Achievement,” which is not complimentary, to say the least. Fred Hiatt, the editor of the editorial page, excoriates Barack Obama not just for the humanitarian disaster — genocides, really — in Syria, but for fundamentally transforming America into a defeatist nation. We used to care when genocides occurred, Hiatt argues, sometimes inconsistently and with unintended consequences for our interventions. But Obama offered the nation a new course — despair:
Obama — who ran for president on the promise of restoring the United States’ moral stature — has constantly reassured Americans that doing nothing is the smart and moral policy. He has argued, at times, that there was nothing the United States could do, belittling the Syrian opposition as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth.”
He has argued that we would only make things worse — “I am more mindful probably than most,” he told the New Republic in 2013, “of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations.”
He has implied that because we can’t solve every problem, maybe we shouldn’t solve any. “How do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?” he asked (though at the time thousands were not being killed in Congo). …
Most critically, inaction was sold not as a necessary evil but as a notable achievement: The United States at last was leading with the head, not the heart, and with modesty, not arrogance.
In other words, Obama made Americans feel good about standing aside and watching genocides take place. Glenn Reynolds argues that this is entirely too kind — and that inaction in one sphere has been met with destabilizing action elsewhere in a perfect storm of incompetence:
And even this is too kind. The “red line” fiasco was a signal that nobody needed to pay attention to U.S. views. The Iraq withdrawal was, in fact, predicted to be a disaster, and took place against the advice of the generals. And the Libya disaster was a war-of-choice, in violation of a disarmament deal we’d already made with Khaddafy.
The war of choice on Libya is an interesting contrast to Hiatt’s indictment, and poses an uncomfortable question about Obama’s strategy, to the extent he has one. Obama balked at intervening in Syria against Bashar al-Assad, one of the main allies for the Iranian mullahs in the region. He had no trouble ordering military strikes on Qaddafi despite the agreement we had reached on nuclear disarmament. In that case, the US and NATO warned that Qaddafi was about to attack a civilian population, but subsequent events demonstrate that Benghazi was no quiet hamlet of peaceful dissent; it was a hub for the terror networks that aligned with al-Qaeda then, and align with ISIS now.
In contrast, Assad had already begun massacring his own people, and even used chemical weapons to do so. Yet Obama hesitated so long to respond to it, and offered such a half-baked military action, that Congress balked at the plans and forced him to stand down. Both countries are now failed states where terror networks flourish. We might have saved Libya by the inaction that Obama preaches elsewhere, and we could have prevented the rise of ISIS had we stayed engaged in Iraq.
Why was Obama so quick to attack a dictator dealing with the West, and so quick to disparage intervention against a dictator aligned with Iran? Was Obama that desperate to get a nuclear deal with Tehran that he and his team — which includes Samantha Power and Susan Rice — were willing to tolerate genocides in order to get it? If so, tremendous amounts of blood and treasure have been spilled for a 15-year delay at best on an Iranian nuclear weapon. That’s one hell of an achievement, all right.