Syria is President Obama’s Bosnia or Rwanda

10 Jun

Today, New York Times Columnist Nick Kristof wrote a scathing critique of President Obama’s policies on Syria and Sudan. He likes President Obama, but has strong disagreement with the president in regards to the aforementioned nations. His article has inspired my post today, especially since, like Kristof, I am a supporter of President Obama, but have been disappointed about his Syria policies:

Since the 2008 Presidential elections, I have been a strong supporter of President Obama. I respect the President and praise his administration’s productivity and accomplishments, especially given the opposition it faced. For example, during his administration, legislation expanding health care coverage  was passed, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, a successful war was conducted against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, Osama Bin Laden has been killed, and American troops have been withdrawn from Iraq. However, despite my approval of President Obama, I am critical of his policy towards Syria and believe that he can and should do much more to stop the genocide there.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has committed horrific war crimes against his own citizens during the last 15 months. According to the United Nations, human rights organizations, and opposition groups, thousands of people have been murdered and numerous children have been tortured. In addition, there are fears that Syria’s uprising could have regional consequences, especially since violent clashes have occurred between pro-Assad and anti-Assad groups in Lebanon.

Nevertheless, President Obama has ineffectively responded to the situation in Syria. Although he has called on Assad to step down, his policies have not deterred the latter’s genocidal campaign.  In addition, he has worked with the European Union and the Arab League to place economic sanctions on the Assad regime, but Assad’s forces continue to commit horrific war crimes, including murdering tens of women and children in Houla on May 25 and in Qubair, Syria in June. Despite these atrocities and the aforementioned fact that diplomatic and economic pressure have not halted the regime’s crimes, the President continues to push for economic sanctions. He also supports negotiations with the regime over a power transition to the opposition even though previous attempts at negotiations and diplomacy by Turkey, the Arab League, and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have failed. President Obama has also tried to seek Russia’s assistance in supporting such a transition. However, some analysts doubt that Russia would ever agree to it. Moreover, despite the fact that opposition forces have been outgunned, he has, until recently, reportedly prevented efforts by regional allies to arm the opposition. He also opposes utilizing airstrikes against the regime, even though such attacks could weaken Assad’s forces. Thus, I believe his response to the atrocities has been ineffective and needs to be tougher.

There are many reasons for his opposition to stronger action against Assad. He is running for re-election and it is unlikely that the public would support military action, especially after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, Syria’s military is stronger than Gaddafi’s forces and would thus pose a more difficult challenge. Moreover, the national debt has already surpassed $15 trillion and intervention could increase debt levels.

However, inaction would be much worse. If President Obama does not act, Syria will become his Rwanda. During the Rwandan genocide, 800,000 people were murdered and the international community failed to take action. In Syria, thousands of people have already been killed and, like Rwanda, the international community has failed to act. Unfortunately, massive slaughter is not the only consequence of inaction. As mentioned before, if it is not contained, violence could spread to other nations, such as Lebanon, thereby resulting in a destabilizing regional war. Just as important, allowing the atrocities to continue provides the Assad more time to utilize its sectarian strategy to foment tensions and encourage violence between different sects in Syria. Thus, it is imperative for President Obama to support military intervention to stop the genocide before it worsens.

If President Obama acts, Syria could instead be his Bosnia. Some may argue that he should not act because of the political consequences, but sometimes, unpopular decisions must be made for the greater good. President Clinton, for example, made the difficult decision to intervene in Bosnia. Like Syria, thousands of Bosnians were killed by a genocidal dictator from 1992-1995, but President Clinton hesitated on taking action. In addition, by the time President Clinton chose to act, the 1996 Presidential elections were a year away and, like President Obama today, he was concerned about the potential political backlash that could ensue from intervening. Nevertheless, President Clinton eventually supported NATO intervention, which stopped the genocide. It is time for President Obama to do the same. Due to the severe consequences of inaction and the failure of diplomatic pressure, President Obama must choose to support intervention in Syria and make it his Bosnia instead of his Rwanda.

What kind of intervention should President Obama support? At the least, he can have American, British, Jordanian, and Turkish special forces provide arms and intelligence support to opposition forces, which are also known as the Free Syrian Army. Anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons would be especially useful. In addition, America’s regional allies- Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey- could also train and organize the Free Syrian Army and assist it with military operations. However, given the size of the Syrian army (300,000 soldiers), this may not be enough.

That is why the Obama administration must consider airstrikes. As mentioned earlier, airstrikes could further weaken the regime’s forces. In addition, Syria’s anti-aircraft capabilities are surmountable, especially since, in 2007, Israeli forces were able to launch successful airstrikes on Syrian soil. The regime’s defensive capabilities are also not at full strength. According to one report, around 75% of Syrian troops have been relegated to their barracks due to fear of disloyalty. The costs of airstrikes do not need to be paid by America alone. NATO members and the Arab League should jointly participate in any airstrikes, thereby resulting in cost-sharing. Altogether, intervention is feasible and there are various military strategies that the Obama administration can use to stop the slaughter.

Intervention will not occur though unless President Obama decides to support it. It is time for him to take the lead and form a multilateral coalition of NATO and Arab League members to intervene in Syria. Intervention is risky, but inaction has worse consequences, including a result similar to that of the Rwandan genocide. On the other hand, intervening could stop the genocide, as it did in Bosnia. As a supporter of President Obama, I strongly urge him to support military intervention. Take action, Mr. President.

For a more detailed analysis of why intervention would be feasible, click here.

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