Monday, November 23, 2015


Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest lays responsibility for the Syrian refugee crisis at the feet of three people: Syrian president Bashar Assad, ISIS leader al-Baghdadi, and President Obama. Why President Obama, you ask?

This paragraph from the conclusion of the essay sums up Mead's indictment of the president's culpability and the rest of the article fills in the facts supporting his allegations:
For no one, other than the Butcher Assad and the unspeakable al-Baghdadi, is as responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria as is President Obama. No one has committed more sins of omission, no one has so ruthlessly sacrificed the well-being of Syria’s people for his own ends, as the man in the White House. In all the world, only President Obama had the ability to do anything significant to prevent this catastrophe; in all the world no one turned his back so coldly and resolutely on the suffering Syrians as the man who sits in the White House today—a man who is now lecturing his fellow citizens on what he insists is their moral inferiority before his own high self-esteem.
What exactly were the president's omissions, in Mead's estimation?
Obama’s own policy decisions — allowing Assad to convert peaceful demonstrations into an increasingly ugly civil war, refusing to declare safe havens and no fly zones — were instrumental in creating the Syrian refugee crisis. This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn.

Many Americans who now oppose the President’s ill-considered refugee program have long supported the use of American power to create “safe zones” in Syria so the refugees could be sheltered and fed in their own country. If President Obama seriously cared about the fate of Syria’s millions of displaced people, he would have started to organize those safe havens years ago. And if he understood the nature of America’s role in Europe, he would have known that working with the Europeans to prevent a mass refugee and humanitarian disaster was something that had to be done.

Not even President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq has been as destructive for Europe or as damaging to the Transatlantic alliance as President Obama’s hard-hearted and short-sighted Syria policy. The flood of refugees is shaking the European Union to its core, and Obama’s policy has cemented perceptions among many around the world that the United States is no longer the kind of useful ally that it once was. France didn’t even bother to invoke NATO’s Article 5 after the Paris attacks; nobody really thinks of President Obama as the man you want at your side when the chips are down.
Mr. Obama prefers to "lead from behind" which implies that he prefers to cede leadership to others, but this is an abdication of his responsibility. The American president, whoever he is, is ipso facto the leader of the free world. If America declines to lead Western civilization will be rudderless, disunited, and vulnerable to the savage barbarians howling for blood just outside the gates.
The collapse of President Obama’s Syria policy is hardly a partisan issue. He has repeatedly overruled his own national security officials, top diplomats, and advisors, many of whom have been horrified by the President’s passivity in the face of onrushing disaster. His abrupt policy switch on airstrikes left many senior Democrats who had supported his apparent determination to enforce his “red line” against Assad twisting in the wind.
Mead also points to an astonishing irony in the president's policy:
The Obama Administration’s extreme caution about engagement in Syria led it to insist on such a thorough process of vetting potential Syrian allies that years of effort and tens of millions of dollars resulted in only a paltry handful of people being found acceptable to receive American weapons and training. The refugee vetting process won’t be nearly this thorough; it’s almost certain that the President’s program will result in settling people in the United States who could not be certified to fight for the United States in Syria. Given our gun laws, uncertified Syrians living in the United States will soon have the opportunity to get weapons that the United States government would refuse to give them in Syria.
Being largely responsible for the refugee mess it ill-suits Mr. Obama to mock those who urge a cautious approach to allowing thousands of refugees, refugees his policies have contributed to creating, into this country. Nor is the crisis over:
The Syria war has not finished creating refugees, undermining regional and even global security, putting WMD in terrorist hands, or spreading the poisons of radicalism and sectarian war across the Middle East and among vulnerable Muslims in Europe and beyond. Things can and will get worse as long as American policy continues to flounder; instead of arguing about how to shelter a few thousand refugees we need to look hard at how we are failing to address the disaster that has created millions, and that continues to grow.
Mr. Obama came into office thinking, or at least giving the impression that he thought, that all he had to do was convince the world that he wasn't anything like George Bush and peace and love would break out all over. Unfortunately, the world is comprised of billions of people who care little about "goodness" and who are restrained by only two things: Power and the willingness to use it. The Obama administration has sounded an uncertain trumpet and refused to back up its own threats in Syria. The evil-doers in ISIS know that this administration is not really serious about stopping them, so, unintimidated by our weak hand and the lack of leadership from this administration, the world is merrily tearing itself apart.