5
Oct

 

Could We Have Stopped This Tragedy?

Unlike neoconservatives, who never admit error no matter how often they are wrong, I spend a fair bit of time thinking about whether my diagnoses of key world events have been off the mark. (For examples of this sort of “self-criticism,” see here, here, and here.) I’ll stand by the vast majority of what I’ve written in my scholarly work and my FP commentary, but I find it useful — indeed, necessary — to occasionally ponder whether I got something wrong and, if so, to try to figure out why.

Case in point: the increasingly awful situation in Syria. Ever since the initial protests broke out, I’ve believed this conflict was not of vital strategic interest to the United States and that overt U.S. intervention was likely to cause more harm than good. What has emerged since then is a relentless and gut-wrenching tragedy, but I’ve uncomfortably concluded that my original judgment was correct. And yet I continue to wonder.

To be sure, the Obama administration has not handled Syria well at all.

President Barack Obama erred when he jumped the gun in 2011 and insisted “Assad must go,” locking the United States into a maximalist position and foreclosing potential diplomatic solutions that might have saved thousands of lives. Second, Obama’s 2012 off-the-cuff remark about chemical weapons and “red lines” was a self-inflicted wound that didn’t help the situation and gave opponents a sound bite to use against him. The president wisely backed away from that position, however, and (with Russian help) eventually devised an arrangement that got rid of Assad’s chemical arsenal. This was no small achievement in itself, but the whole episode did not exactly inspire confidence. The administration eventually agreed to start a training program for anti-Assad forces, but did so with neither enthusiasm nor competence. Read more…

 

Published in foreignpolicy.com by Stephen Walt on Sept. 21, 2015

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