Two Wrongs Don't Make a Good Foreign Policy

By Tom Del Beccaro, on Sep 3, 2013

Two Wrongs Don't Make A Good Foreign Policy

 A Way for the President To Make a Difference in Syria & Restore American Prestige  

by Thomas Del Beccaro

By all accounts, the President has mishandled Syria.  By extension, the United States has as well. The Syrian question highlights the difficulty of the post-Cold War era.  The world of foreign affairs is no longer a binary question of who to follow.  Indeed, the ability of the United States and the Soviet Union to control international events continues to diminish in the age of non-state terrorism.  [read more]

Syria remains a client state of Russia.  But not even the Russians, with the flexibility their lack of a democratic process allows them, can control what is going on in Syria.  A patchwork of rebels has been standing up to Assad regime and, over the last two years, an al Qaeda element has more than complicated the calculus.

It is now reasonable to conclude that United States cannot back either side.  Assad is a heinous dictator who has driven his people to the edge.  On the other hand, the al Qaeda element is growing in the ranks of the rebels and, if they triumph, could represent an Al Qaeda state in the heart of the Middle East. Neither eventuality is good for the Middle East, the U.S. or the World.

Nevertheless, the President is right to believe the use of chemical weapons is more than a troubling development.  The World should be outraged along with the Administration and the world should be acting.

Unfortunately, this Administration’s mishandling of Syria, including the drawing of red lines and threatened responses, has hamstrung the World’s response to the use of those chemical weapons.  In doing so, Assad and others have viewed the U. S. in retreat.  A weakened U.S. in retreat is not only bad for the U.S. but also bad for the World.  That dynamic cannot be allowed to go on.

That does not mean the U.S. should simply bomb Syria let alone send in troops or weapons.  Two wrongs doesn't make a good foreign policy.  We cannot change the outcome of Syrian civil war with a limited strike and, as stated above, we shouldn’t.  A limited strike will not gain any strategic advantage and won’t do much for U.S. prestige.  A major U.S. strike and/or U.S. military engagement on the side of the rebels, as they are currently constituted, is not a good idea either.  Even so, simply allowing the Assad to use chemical weapons is also very bad.

So what should the President do?  Rather than get the U.S. involved militarily, Obama should bring the World together in a diplomatic effort to isolate Syria even more than it is today and attempt bring some moderation to the rebel effort.

To do that, with or without the United Nations initially, the President should do the following:

1) Continue to have Secretary Kerry make the case that Syria used chemical weapons and expose where they got them – thereby isolating Assad and Russia over time,  and

2) Appoint a serious diplomatic team to meet with moderate rebel leaders in an attempt to raise their international profile and hopefully bring international pressure on them to act with even more moderation, and

3) work to bring both sides to the table.

If the President works relentlessly to isolate Assad and Russia, the President could deter further use of chemical weapons – a goal nearly everyone can support.  If he can gain momentum for that process, and allied support, he can also restore American prestige.  A bombing, on the other hand, will accomplish none of that and neither will sending in troops.  All of that can be done without establishing an al Qaeda state if the moderate forces are supported and al Qaeda's deeds exposed.  Indeed, if done correctly, an increasing World presence could deter al Qaeda as well – certainly more so than a rebel victory with the World watching from afar.

In the final analysis, Syria will likely deteriorate further.  The next leader of Syria will not be democratic as the U.S. will want if at all.  Aggressive U.S. military action will not change the above nor will firing missiles.  Instead, the U.S. should work to restore it prestige for future crises to come.

Can Obama do it?  Ambassador John Bolton is right that Obama has lost international credibility.  Further, Obama hasn’t proven to be a coalition builder in the past at any level.  Without a plan such as this, however, it is the U.S. that will become isolated. 

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