Politics & Policy

How Syria’s Dictator Slaughters His People

(Photo Illustration: NRO)
Assad, chlorine gas, and the drowning of President Obama’s foreign policy

“. . . respiratory failure, pulmonary edema, likely acute pulmonary hypertension, cardiomegaly, pulmonary vascular congestion, acute burns of the upper and especially the proximal lower airways, and death.”

That’s what high-level exposure to chlorine gas does to humans. But the technical language hides bitter truths. Pulmonary edema, for example, is the drowning of lungs in water.

And that’s how Bashar Assad rules the people of Syria. Last week, teary-eyed U.N. delegates were briefed on the aftermath of a March chlorine-gas attack in Syria. The delegates saw a video of suffocated children, and the efforts of Syrian doctors to save them.

The dictator alone possesses the helicopters, chlorine stockpiles, and proven record of deploying the gas.

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Of course, the U.N. being the U.N., Assad has nothing to fear from his latest atrocity. His war crimes will again be sanitized in calibrated statements of nothingness. America’s moral and strategic credibility, however, has much more to lose.

Because Assad has once again vanquished America’s word. Last April, I explained how Assad was repeatedly using chemical weapons even after he had promised to surrender those weapons in September 2013. That nothing has changed is unsurprising. After all, as I noted when the WMD compromise between Assad/Putin and President Obama was first struck, “By sucking the United States into an overtly dysfunctional UN framework, Putin has tied American power to the procedural absurdity of the UN.” Playing to western delusions, the Russian leader has co-opted America’s understanding of multilateralism in service of Russian realpolitik. For another example, consider Russia’s manipulation of the U.N.’s negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program to restrain American power.

Witnessing America’s new malleability, Mr. Putin has bent the United States to his will.

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But that’s not all. Today, in the Middle East, after abandoning Iraq’s Sunni tribes, allowing Assad to massacre Syria’s Sunni population, and ludicrously claiming the disintegration of Yemen as a success, President Obama’s credibility has also drowned. By placating Iran, President Obama has neglected possible political solutions to dampen the flames of sectarian politics. In doing so, he’s ignoring the underlying truth he himself claims to pursue: that only political moderation can ultimately extinguish the flames of war. Consequentially, the Middle East is collapsing into Sunni versus Shia extremism — a black hole that increasingly threatens America.

There are lessons in this chaos.

Ultimately, this is about President Obama’s doctrine of realism forged from strategic hesitation: He refuses to accept that while America’s allies are attracted by our trade and power, America’s enemies must be compelled by the sharper enforcement of our beliefs.

Defining his foreign-policy legacy, historians will record President Obama’s oratory. But his words, like those at Grant Park on election night 2008 (“a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you”) will be tempered to realities like that at 1 minute 38 seconds.

— Tom Rogan is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and holds the Tony Blankley chair at the Steamboat Institute.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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