Lost amid the past week's hoopla over serial revelations concerning Hillary Clinton's emails and her foundation and Donald Trump's immigration positioning was yet another humiliating indication of the Obama Administration's utter fecklessness in the ongoing Syrian tragedy that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, destroyed city after city and unleashed the refugee crises upon Europe.
A United Nations investigation found that Syria has continued to attack its citizens with chemical weapons, in this case chlorine gas. The report also found that ISIS had done the same thing there, with mustard gas.
The report comes three years after the Obama Administration worked out an agreement that allowed Syria's regime to turn over its stocks of chemical weapons, including deadly sarin gas. It was done with great fanfare because the use of chemical weapons was supposed to be President Obama's "red line" for triggering military action if it could be shown that the forces of Syria's "president," Bashar Hafez al-Assad, had attacked its own people with chemical weapons. Despite the use of chemical weapons there, we did nothing.
The U.N. report found evidence of at least two instances since 2013 of the Syrian regime mounting deadly chemical attacks in its civil war.
The Assad regime could act with impunity because in the face of its earlier chemical attacks President Obama chose to continue nibbling around the edges of the conflict even as the Mideast nation came undone. There was no "red line." His inaction also allowed Vladimir Putin to enter the fray. The Obama administration made it seem Putin would be our partner in battling ISIS, even as Putin was moving instead to decisively protect Assad with aggressive Russian bombing of the regime's enemies, including rebel forces supported by the U.S., and Iran became a player in the conflict. Obama's failure to respond in anything more than tiny increments, as we've written over the past year, has disappointed even his supporters. Clinton, the candidate Obama so warmly embraced for instance, has proposed far more drastic action to at least stem the humanitarian crisis with U.S. military action to establish safe zones. Trump, for his part, proposes working with Assad at least initially to destroy ISIS on the grounds that ISIS, and not Assad, is the threat to America.
Obama's tentative approach, sometimes more suited to the seminar than leadership, goes even to his rhetoric. His speech in April on efforts to prevent further terror attacks said we were "dismantling and destroying the ISIL network." What leader wouldn't state our goal was to "destroy" ISIS? That phrase didn't come until much later, and his focus on events on the ground in the Mideast gave scant recognition to ISIS's growth into a worldwide web of influence. ISIS inspired attacks after his optimistic words included Orlando, Bangladesh and Nice.
Obama appears so focused on polishing a legacy as peacemaker, even as parts of the world continue falling apart, that in another arena he appears to be pushing for an unnecessary formal pronouncement that the U.S. would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. It's something that's as unnecessary as it is foolish, and which even if adopted, is largely symbolic given that he'll be succeeded him in five months.
While the proposal may be a trial balloon, it's no passing thought. It came up six years ago at the time of the Nuclear Posture Review Report, in which the Obama Administration indicated it would not consider using nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear countries, possibly regardless of provocation, and against others only under extreme circumstances. The administration now seems to be trying to eliminate any ambiguity on this score, even if every rational nation now assumes we wouldn't jump first. Just a veneer of ambiguity might make a major power such as a Russia or China or an Iran, for instance, think twice before launching even a conventional attack against Europe, Japan or Saudi Arabia because of the possibility of a nuclear response.
Obama toys with opening the door to miscalculations by very dangerous players, potentially inviting debilitating cyberattacks, conventional, chemical or even some sort of nuclear weapon under even a misguided assumption by others that there is no "red line" among our options.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD