Two weeks ago, President Obama’s speech on Syria to the American people was intended to lay out a clear and concise argument about taking “punitive military action” in Syria in response to last month’s chemical weapon attacks on civilians. Instead, Americans were faced with a flip-flop opinion from the president and a whole lot of murky foreign policy, which left some of the best political minds in the field stumped.
In place of the clear cut foreign policy the American people have come to expect from their leaders, we watched the president take a step back from his “red line in the sand,” suspending the vote as he rocketed toward a defeat on his Syria legislation in the house. Frankly, if Obama wanted to do anything, he would have already done so, and would not be seeking approval from Congress to cover his ass.
In addition, the president praised Russia, a staunch ally of Assad and his regime, for their “forward” and “promising” plan to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. This process, which he conveniently failed to mention, could take years or even decades.
Some may argue that Russia is appearing to be more diplomatic than the United States in this situation after proposing international chemical weapons control. Earlier last week, Putin wrote an editorial for the New York Times that, at points, questioned the United States’ interpretation of democracy, claiming that the government utilizes “brute force” to get their way, and that they operate on a “you’re either with us or against us” mentality.
However, do not let this sheer cover of diplomatic and peaceful intentions fool you; Russia is just trying to cover their bases. Russia’s main concern is maintaining their navy’s access to a strategically critical base in the port of Tartus, not to mention the massive amount of arms it sells to the Syrian government annually. In addition, instability allows Russia to continue to profit greatly from oil in the region.
As news came this past week about additional confirmed chemical weapon attacks in Syria predating the infamous August incident, it is unclear how the international community will now respond to this series of grave acts. Nonetheless, the world community is watching (especially other dictators) to see how this will be handled. That is why inaction is more dangerous than anything else, because if other dictators do not see strong responses, consequences, and condemnation from the world powers, it sets a precedent showing that this is something that a country can successfully get away with. It will also send a message of victory to the Syrian government that carried out the attacks.
In addition, the civil war in Syria is becoming more heated. Syria has all of the reason to explode, rather than implode, as we observed in Libya. As a result, countries surrounding Syria could soon be dragged into the conflict, drawing their allies in and creating a worse situation.
Taking chemical weapons out of Syrian hands and putting them under international control is a good idea; however, no solid plan or time frame has been laid out for the international community. It seems like a weak response to something that has dominated the news in every facet for the past month. But to put it bluntly, taking their weapons does not help the actual problem. It’s like a band-aid on a bullet wound. Until the civil war is addressed, instability will reign in the region, potentially and probably leading to worse atrocities and a greater loss of human life.
The civil war has already taken 100,000 lives on all sides according to the United Nations. Sure, the big world powers can take Syria’s chemical weapons, but with the constant inflow of guns from Russia, it will do little good. But if responding to the death of 1,000 plus people, a small incident in the history of the war (after tens of thousands have already been killed without a word) avoids a foreign policy hail storm questioning the Obama administration’s inaction prior to this incident, the world will give him an undeserved political gold star.