Monday, February 15, 2016

Obama's Syrian Failure

Bill Clinton, our 42nd Democratic President, famously rued his failure to do anything in stopping Rwandan Massacre. Very likely another Democrat, President Barack Obama, will get his pick - failure to stop civil war and misery of Syrian people. In his case, history will also castigate him as a responsible party who neglected Europe when Europeans are haplessly hurling themselves to a chaos as waves of migrants lash the continent. Europe has been America's stalwart partner in global affairs and now Barack Obama would have contributed to the downfall of Europe.[1]

The basic error Obama Administration committed in Syrian affairs was to set people's expectations high without having done the homework. President Obama and Sec. Kerry kept on insisting Assad's departure but they never spent any substantive resources or political capital to achieve that. It is understandable that to keep Saudi Arabia and Turkey 'well entertained' Administration felt to join the bandwagon of 'no Assad'. But if you are not ready to pay for what it takes, why compromise America's credibility? That is the business Obama Administration essentially engaged in - cheapening of America's credibility in Syrian affairs.

It is not just Assad, but all those rebels also see the devastating consequences of 'trusting America'. First, it was the laughable program of arming only those rebels who will fight IS but not Assad. Next comes, in a crunch time Sec. Kerry allowed Russian bombing of rebels in Aleppo while asking everyone else to stop hostilities. Obama Administration has been needlessly over cautious when it came to arming rebels or putting together a more forceful American military response.

In Munich Security Conference Sec. Kerry said Americans are not just sitting across the pond and watching what is happening in Europe and Syria. He claimed that America is the partner of Europe in good times and bad times. Well, the reality is Sec. Kerry and President Obama are sitting on their hands down without doing anything and watching the unraveling of Syria and Europe!

America's core interests in Syria and Middle East are to defeat IS. Obama strategy of bombing IS is putting pressure on IS. But Obama Administration needs to continue to work further with America's partners to win back Mosul and defeat IS at Raqqa while at the same time not letting IS take any foothold in Libya and Afghanistan. Obama Administration is on a reasonable track to cleanse IS but President needs to put more heft to those efforts to achieve much more long lasting defeat of IS.

However, it is the Syrian Civil War where Obama Administration strategy does not work. Well, one can safely characterize that Obama Administration does not have any strategy at all. Allowing Putin to run over Aleppo while hand cuffing rebels is as much as goading anti-Assad rebels to gallows. Task for Sec. Kerry is straight forward here - not to agree for anything which gives Putin a free hand. Secondly, Obama Administration needs to provide more and better weapons to anti-Assad forces which will help them to resist Russian Air attacks as well as retaliate forcefully Assad and Hezbollah forces. Obama Administration has been over cautious in this regard. No doubt giving weapons to these rebels is risky since you cannot vet all of them. But that is the risk Obama Administration needs to take and more importantly need to manage in any case.

Third thing, Obama Administration needs to give an ultimatum to Turkey to keep aside her war with Kurds, especially Syrian Kurds. A sort of safe zone inside Syria for displaced Syrian people along the border of Turkey is more appropriate. That will ensure that Syrian Kurd controlled area does not become contiguous - the main worry of Turkey. The idea is preliminary - without damaging Kurdish aspirations, heed Turkish concerns about Syrian Kurds in someways to procure space to pressurize Turkey in other areas.

Finally, President of USA needs to make it very clear to Europeans what is needed to get through this crisis - Europe needs to remain united.[2] Europe needs to manage current set of migrants even if it does not take any new ones and Europe must enforce external borders.[3] Someone needs to tell very loudly, publicly and consistently that collapse of Europe will be a global catastrophe with enormous security consequences across the planet. In the last century we have seen twice - when Europe fails to remain united it engulfs the whole world in wars. No one wants that to repeat. Essentially global peace demands 'unity' among Europeans. America has the authority and even historical duty to insist this with Europeans. At present, Europe is allowing itself to be a tool of Putin. Spending more money for NATO security, sending more troops; that is all good start by USA. But Obama Administration needs to back up its assertiveness with whatever it takes to achieve European stability and security. President Obama has allowed to seep in some kind of lethargy in EU-USA relationship. If his Democratic predecessor FDR could wage simultaneous wars in Pacific and Atlantic, today's America for sure can put an emphatic deterrence in Europe as well as in Eastern Pacific simultaneously.

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[1] - Angela Merkel rebuffed then candidate Barack Obama to get imprimatur of Brandenburg Gate for his political speech. Sure that is not the 'revenge' Obama is doing here; I am just saying!


[3] - Europe cannot just ask Greece to enforce border when Greece does not have much money to run her own government. That is where Germany and Europe need to provide financial assistance to all southern European countries which lack resources to enforce continent wide border control.

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