Years of tough talk followed by inaction by the Obama administration with respect to the genocide perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his use of chemical weapons against his own people have provided President Donald Trump with a perfect example of what not to do.
Frederic Hof, director of the nonpartisan Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, published a somber farewell letter on Wednesday in which he laments that he had failed during Obama’s administration to persuade “senior officials that a drifting Syria policy left unchanneled would facilitate human suffering on an industrial scale and serve the interests of those arrayed against the United States and its allies: Russia, Iran, Islamist extremists, and the lawless regime of Bashar al-Assad.”
Hof notes that he had originally felt encouraged by former President Obama’s “red line” and assumed that “any Assad regime use of chemical munitions would draw a quick and lethal American military response.”
Unfortunately, he later concluded that Obama’s promises “about Assad stepping aside were empty” because Obama viewed the nuclear deal with Iran as his “foreign policy legacy jewel in the crown”; he was unwilling to risk angering Iran. Hof believes that such a mindset “considered Syrian lives expendable for a higher cause.”
He ultimately declares that “Barack Obama’s performance in Syria produced global destabilization.”
The full scathing letter is available here.
Many Republicans felt similarly about Obama’s foreign policy.
Republicans were therefore heartened when Trump behaved as though he were more inclined to act in Syria — such as when he responded to a chemical attack in 2017 by ordering a targeted military strike on the air base in Syria from which the attack was launched.
"Leaving this mess is likely to result in emboldening both the Assad regime, the Russians, and the Turks to finish off the Kurds," says retired U.S. general @mccaffreyr3, of potential U.S. withdrawal from #Syria.
— On Assignment with Richard Engel (@OARichardEngel) March 31, 2018
The situation in Syria is dire. In the seven years of civil war, nearly half a million Syrians have been killed and more than 6 million people have been displaced internally — all while the Syrian president uses chemical weapons on his own people.
Yahoo! reported yesterday that, “after a relentless weeks-long bombing campaign by government forces,” evacuation agreements had been reached between rebels and Russia, enabling more than 36,000 to be evacuated out of Ghouta.
One evacuated father, who used to spend hours trying to buy expensive milk for his infant while worrying he would be killed in the attempt, stated, “we were living in hell” in Ghouta, but “I feel like I’m in heaven” in Idlib, where he and his family were evacuated to.
Similarly, at a shelter in Maarat al-Ikhwan, one 13-year-old said that in his hometown Harasta, before the evacuation, “we were scared and terrified. We never dared to go leave the shelter to play football,” but “here I can play with my friends.”
As the situation in Syria worsened throughout Obama’s presidency, Republicans spent years criticizing Obama’s red line and his unwillingness to follow through on it, as well as his tendency to golf — particularly his decision to play golf immediately after an American had been killed internationally.
However, early yesterday morning, an American was killed in Syria, as well as a British member of a U.S.-led coalition. This was the first known American death since Thanksgiving 2016.
And President Donald Trump went golfing.
Pres Trump has arrived at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Press Pool reports it's holding across the street.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) March 30, 2018
Press pool reports Pres Trump back at Mar-a-Lago after 5½ hours at his golf club in West Palm.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) March 30, 2018
RedState front-page contributor Grant Gambling noted earlier today that there is currently no Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense doesn’t often speak to the media, which therefore means much of the messaging and the responsibility of influencing public opinion regarding Syria falls on Trump.
Trump has a choice. He could choose to advocate for policies that could end the years-long civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. Or, if Trump lets it, Obama’s dismal Syrian legacy will become his own.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan