Giving Obama Credit Where It Is Due
This pasr Wednesday in Stockholm Obama made the best case for intervening in Syria. When asked if his credibility was on the line he replied that it was the civilized world and America's credibility on the line and not his.
Now, this was an obvious attempt to sidestep responsibility for his unbelievably stupid statement that chemical weapons use would be a redline. Obama just wants to weasel free of what he said and is looking to cast blame on everyone he can.
But he was right. This is an issue of credibility for America, for the West, and for the civilized world as a whole. For almost 100 years we have declared chemical weapons an infamy and promised retribution for those who use them. And for twenty years we have looked the other way when Arab dictators have used them freely.
When people can fly in the face of what the civilized world says it will accept and are not smashed down, it makes what the civilization's word meaningless to the barbarians who run places like Syria. And when the barbarians start to disregard the opinions of the civilized and do not see any strength in us, things are going to get way uglier way fast. Think World War II, the Korean War, Mogadishu, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and First Gulf War ugly.
So Obama was right. He is not the only one on the hook for not enforcing a prohibition against chemical weapons. All of the West is. Obama slipped up and said what everyone else was willing to let go unsaid and was the only one in a position to be held accountable for his threat. But the West agreed that chemical weapons were unacceptable a long time ago and allow Assad to go unpunished invites more horrors.
Still, that is insufficient reason to attack Assad. Attacking without changing the balance of power is a foolish waste of money and actually only punishes the people we blow up, not Assad. The only way to punish Assad is to alter the balance of power or kill someone he cares about, and targeted assassinations are beyond the pale.
Changing the balance of power is questionable because we are most likely to create a chance for another Islamist-run anarchy. We cannot become al Quaeda's Air Force, not even to win back the credibility Obama squandered. The only way to change the situation so it hurts Assad and the Islamists is to go in and defeat both sides. We would have to conquer Syria and rule it, rather like a latter-day Crusader-state, until the people were so changed that they would no more tolerate Hizb'allah or Assad than they would tolerate not being allowed to buy pork. That is not going to happen.
During World War II it would have been unconscionable to use chemical weapons. Yet if the Soviets had used them against Nazi civilians it would have been insane for the USA to threaten the USSR with retaliation. The stakes were too high and the threat from both sides too real. We would have bitten our tongue and let those who hate us kill our enemy and then dealt with the winner later. Which is essentially what we did.
It is an ugly practice, but it was necessary to get through an ugly situation with only bad choices. We are not going to improve Syria by pretending that a few missiles or even real military support for the rebels is going to lead to a pleasant outcome. The best we can hope is to not get involved, hope the world did not notice that the West's leaders have written far more checks than they can cash, and pray that Obama learns that men with power have to watch their mouths.