The Blog

Three Years of War in Syria

And three years of foreign policy missteps.

8:35 AM, Mar 15, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Obama himself provided no more insight when in an appearance on the Charlie Rose show, the commander in chief told his host, “I’ve said I’m ramping up support for both the political and military opposition. I’ve not specified exactly what we’re doing, and I won’t do so on this show.” The only confirmation the administration was sending arms came from press reports sourced to anonymous officials who because they went unnamed had no reason to fear that their credibility was on the line if their information proved inaccurate or false. Subsequent press reports and interviews with rebel commanders over the next few months showed that White House was not sending arms. In other words, there had been no change in policy—the White House was just misdirecting the public.

But why mislead a public that, from Obama’s point of view, wants nothing to do with Syria in the first place? Many observers believed that when Obama sought a congressional authorization for the use of military force in September to enforce his red line, he was risking an embarrassing “no” vote. The reality is that he was intending to use Congress as he’d been using Moscow at the U.N. Security Council for the previous two years—as a veto by proxy to shoot down any actions he neither wants to undertake nor reject himself. Had Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov not intervened with the initiative to rid Assad of his chemical weapons, Obama would have been content to have Congress take the decision out of his hands.

Of course I wanted to hit regime targets, he’d now be confiding to his customary sounding boards and press surrogates. I wanted to punish Assad not just for violating my red line—and of course as I explained in September it’s not my red line, but the world’s red line—but also because of his depredations against his own people. I wanted to do something, but the representatives of the American people said no. For better or worse, it’s they who now own the decision to let Assad escape unpunished.

The president has waged a three-year-long strategic messaging campaign full of half-truths and lies because even if he’s convinced that he’s right and he has the American people on his side, he’s still worried. He understands the scope of the humanitarian catastrophe and fears the strategic disaster that may befall American allies and the United States itself. Obama’s messaging campaign, the White House’s disinformation and evasions, is how the president has tried for the past three years to put some distance between himself and the Syrian conflict. He’s right to fear that it will forever be a black mark on his legacy.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers