Obama’s real mistake in Syria

Obama’s real mistake in Syria
Christopher R. Hill writes in the Gulf News that as US President Barack Obama’s eight-year term winds down, he has been facing intensifying criticism for failing to stop the carnage in Syria — what many call his “worst mistake.” 

Obama’s detractors condemn his decision not to launch a forceful military intervention to remove Bashar Assad early in the conflict, when the US could have backed more moderate forces that were supposedly in play, Hill says, adding at the very least, the critics maintain, Obama should have enforced the so-called “red lines” that he set, such as intervening in the event that the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons.

“In failing to intervene early and decisively, it is said, Obama shirked his United Nations-backed ‘Responsibility to Protect’ civilian populations from governments committing war crimes against them,” the writer goes on to say, emphasizing that Obama left space for external powers that support Assad — especially Russia, which has sent trainers and strike aircraft to help Assad — to intervene in the conflict.

Hill says that beyond misreading the opposition, the Obama administration made another fateful mistake in Syria: failing to take into account the interests of other powers, adding that the US dismissed all of this, seemingly unable to take to heart anything Russia had to say.

Few seem willing to consider the possibility that the real lost opportunity actually lies in the failure to help spearhead the negotiation of a viable, peace-enhancing settlement, Hill says, adding that perhaps it is a matter of simple political self-preservation: in the US, maybe more than elsewhere, changing one’s mind is derided as flip-flopping, and considered a worse option than sticking to a failed policy.

Of course, at this point, it is impossible to say what will emerge from the Syrian crisis, Hill asserts, wondering whether it would be a new Sunni-led state or multiple new states, saying even a re-drawn map of the Middle East is a possibility. 

What is certain is that the outcome will have a major impact on Syria’s neighbors and the broader international community and that their interests, together with the interests of the Syrian people, must inform any effort to end the carnage and create conditions for long-term peace, Hill concludes. 

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