The Syrian Miasma

The administration is culpable in Syria, given that it foolishly came into office determined to advance a partisan narrative that the thuggish Assad had been unnecessarily estranged by prior short-sighted American policy. In six key ways, it only made things far worse: by reopening the embassy in Damascus, by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s astounding declaration that there was a general consensus that Assad was a “reformer,” by serial chest-thumping, after the Libya intervention, that the situation in Syria had to cease and by inference that it would do so through American action if necessary, by green-lighting a dominant U.N. role headed by the notoriously overrated and ineffectual Kofi Annan, by naively thinking Putin might do anything constructive other than his usual policy of being against anything that we are for, and by outsourcing support for the anti-Assad forces to the Sunni fundamentalists of the Gulf, who sought to replace a murderous anti-American dictator with murderous anti-American Islamists.

But note — the antidote to the above is most certainly not an active American military intervention. There is zero public support for it, after Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. The Libyan model is a blueprint for nothing. It vastly exceeded the U.N. resolution by bombing instead of simply establishing the approved no-fly-zone and offering humanitarian aid; it bypassed the U.S. Congress in favor of U.N. and Arab League approval; and it vastly underrated the chances that Islamists might hijack the Libyan revolution and end up killing the very people who had helped to free them from Qaddafi.

Instead, the proper critique of the disastrous Obama policy on Syria is to note how the Obama administration’s politicized efforts at “reset” only empowered both Assad and the Islamists who wish to replace him, and leave us now with only bad and worse choices — between keeping out of the bloodletting altogether, and finding out exactly who the secular anti-Assad forces are, if any exist in real numbers, and whether they are legitimate enough to receive American financial and material support.

At this late date, even the latter minimalist choice probably has minimal public support.

Victor Davis Hanson — Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. © 2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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