Thursday, September 11, 2014

Syria Will Likely Define Obama's Presidency: Reactions to His Speech

This article first appeared on The Epoch Times    


     Now there is a strategy.  Last night, President Obama laid out a four point strategy to "degrade and destroy" the Islamic State, or as the administration likes to call them, ISIL.  First, the United States will broaden airstrikes in Iraq.  Second, the president will deploy an additional 475 American forces to serve in a non-combat, advisory role for the Iraqi military.  Additionally, the president has called on Congress to approve funding to train moderate Syrian rebel forces.  Third, the US will ramp-up counterterror efforts and work with partners to cut terrorist funding, curb "warped" ideology, and stem the flow of foreign fighters.  Last, the US will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced individuals.

     President Obama has received much criticism for his handling of the Syrian civil war, which is arguably not only his biggest foreign policy failure but also his biggest policy failure as president.  The president ran on a platform to end the wars in which the United States was engaged.  Many experts have stated that there are no good options regarding the Syrian civil war.  However, the situation has been mishandled not only by the president but by congress as well.    

     President Obama likened his new strategy to the counterterrorism campaign he has waged against other radical Islamic militants in Somalia and Yemen.  Two major differences between the president's counterterror campaign in Somalia and Yemen and the current situation in Syria are the elimination of key members of terrorist groups and host country permission.  The elimination of key members tactic was demonstrated last week when the administration confirmed that the United States had killed the leader of the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab.  As Kathy Gilsinan documented for the Atlantic, decapitation of terrorist leaders may not be effective because these organizations are able to recoup and recover quickly by simply appointing the next in line.

    Second, as many experts have noted, the Somali, Yemeni, and even Iraqi governments have invited the United States to conduct these counterterror campaigns on their soil.  There is no such invitation by Syria and initiating strikes runs the risk of angering Syrian allies (Iran, Russia, China) which would be a blatant violation of sovereignty.  In terms of President Obama's assessment regarding a potential invasion of sovereignty, he stated at a recent press conference, "right now, what we’re seeing is the areas that ISIL is occupying are not controlled by Assad anyway.  And, frankly, Assad doesn’t seem to have the capability or reach to get into those areas.  So I don’t think this is a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we’ve been seeing there."  Additionally, the president stated last night that he would chair a United Nations Security Council meeting possibly with the hopes of gaining a resolution to bolster his international legal standing.

     President Obama has now called on Congress to authorize funds to train "moderate" Syrian rebels.  The American public widely supports air strikes against the Islamic State but also widely opposes the incursion of US ground forces.  Military experts have stated that air power alone is not enough to degrade the radical militant group.  President Obama has also acknowledged that there is not just a military solution to the crisis in Iraq and Syria, but also an accompanying political solution.  By building up Syrian rebel forces, the president believes he can kill two birds with one stone.  However, there have been reports that many of the so-called moderates have joined the Islamic State in frustration of their waning force in combating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Reports have also indicated that American weapons that were provided to small factions of moderate Syrian rebels have now fallen into the hands of the Islamic State, an initial fear of the president.  Such weapons include small scale anti-aircraft devices.

     Third, reports also have surfaced, that "moderate" rebels, sold American journalist Steven Sotloff to the Islamic State for between $25,000 and $50,000.  In addition to these startling issues, the president rebuked much of his national security staff early on including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to arm moderate Syrian rebels.  His decision to now do just that undermines his credibility, leadership, and most of all, his competence for the situation.

     The president will also likely receive criticism, as he should, for not outlining the "broad coalition" he mentioned in his speech.  While he noted Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with partners in the region, the president did not provide any additional details as to what the coalition will look like or how it will function.  The prime responsibility for the security of the region should fall on the nations that reside there - not the United States.  The United States should be available for support, but not be the main military driver.  The president has received similar criticism after his speech at West Point earlier this year in which he outlined a $5 billion counterterrorism partnership fund.  Many in Congress are dissatisfied with members of the administration for not being able to provide any details regarding the fund.

     President Obama ran on an anti-war platform and to end expanding executive power.  He has since expanded executive authority and begun a third military incursion into two administrations in the Middle East.  His handling of Syria is an utter failure.  While he was not responsible for how the situation worsened, his policies toward its rectification and containment have cost him the confidence and support of the American people.  There are no good options in Syria and possibly going it alone (without congressional authorization), under vague premises, and bunk legal authority is not worthwhile either.  It may just tarnish the platform he was elected on.                   


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