September 10, 2015
Obama’s Failure to Stop Assad Contributes to Refugee Crisis
By Frederic C. Hof
“Stop them damn pictures. I don’t care what the papers write about me. My constituents can’t read. But, damn it, they can see the pictures.”See the full article "Obama, Open Your Eyes" on the Foreign Policy website.
Change “can’t” to “don’t” or “rarely,” and the plaintive words of the corrupt William Magear “Boss” Tweed in reaction to the scathing cartoons of Thomas Nast in 1870s New York City might just as easily be placed on the lips of President Barack Obama, as images of dead Syrian children washing up on Turkish beaches awaken a dormant American public to a humanitarian abomination and policy catastrophe. For an administration relying on public indifference to sustain a policy rich in rhetoric and devoid of action, the pictures are a damnable inconvenience.
Faced by reporters suddenly jolted out of Syria fatigue, White House spokesman Josh Earnest recently followed his boss’s formula in defending the indefensible. Yes, Earnest admitted, there may have been alternatives to doing nothing as Iran and Russia helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad do his worst to 23 million Syrians. But, according to Earnest, they “would have subjected the United States to a whole host of more significant risks, including more significant outlays of funds to fund essentially a war in Syria. It certainly would have put tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of American troops in harm’s way on the ground in [Syria].”
Is it possible that anyone in this administration really believes that invasion would have been the inevitable consequence of accepting the 2012 recommendation of Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton, David Petraeus, and Martin Dempsey — then the defense secretary, secretary of state, CIA director, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, respectively — that the United States take the lead in training and equipping Syrian nationalists capable of fighting both Bashar al-Assad and a growing al Qaeda presence in Syria?
Frederic C. Hof is a Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.