Obama’s Got Syria All Wrong — and That’s Not All


It is hard to know exactly when the Arab Spring, a phrase used to  describe the beginning of the Arab peoples’ demand for democracy and  human-rights reform, started. Some point to 2005, when the United States led the  United Nations Security Council to push the Syrian military out of Lebanon after  29 years. It was a bold and controversial move that many Lebanese had worked  toward but that the Russians were flatly against. President George W. Bush’s  team pushed hard for the resolution, despite some anger and accusations of  unilateralism. When the votes were finally cast on Resolution 1559, the Russians  abstained along with five other countries. The resolution only garnered the  minimum nine votes needed to pass, but it was still a victory and had the  force of international law. While liberals and the media peddle the narrative of  the cowboy unilateralism of the Bush administration having had disastrous  diplomatic results, President Barack Obama and his team have produced fewer  votes at the U.N. than Bush did. The facts show that the Bush style — which  Obama has routinely ridiculed and derided — produced better results.

Today, Syria has fallen further into an all-out civil war while Iran, Turkey,  Israel, and Russia work to maintain or increase their influence in the region.  The U.S., however, struggles to articulate a strategy and fails to conduct the  necessary muscular diplomacy with NATO allies or others in the region. The  absence of U.S. influence in Syria means the Islamic extremists have running  room to do what they do best: create and support terror. Over the last 18  months, President Obama’s administration has faced three double-vetoes from  Russia and China on three separate occasions at the U.N. and failed to stop  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violence that has left, by some accounts,  30,000 Syrians dead. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Syria “a test of  everything the United Nations stands for.”

President Obama is failing that test. His vacillation and timidity on Syria  and other foreign policy issues reflects the vision he articulated as a  candidate for president, when he suggested the U.S. should not act alone but  negotiate with our enemies. For example, Obama sent the U.S. ambassador to Syria  back to Damascus in January 2011 for the first time since President George W.  Bush recalled him in 2005, following the murder of former Lebanese President  Rafik al-Hariri. The Syrian government was accused of — and later proven guilty  of — Hariri’s killing. But a few months later, Obama recalled our ambassador  back to Washington because of the threat of violence, only to send him back to  Damascus six weeks later and recall him again to Washington a few months after  that. The haphazard U.S. policy toward a hostile regime confused U.S. allies  like Turkey, Jordan ,and Israel and angered Republicans, including presidential  candidate Mitt Romney.

As president, Governor Romney would handle the Syrian conflict much  differently. A President Romney would not ignore a growing conflict in a  dangerous region involving allies the way Obama has, especially when chemical  weapons could possibly be used. Romney has made clear he would not hesitate to  call for regime change in Syria, nor send the U.S. ambassador back to watch  President Assad’s regime kill its people. The mistake gave Assad the opportunity  to propagandize and look like a legitimate leader. Governor Romney also  understands that America has a unique role to play when human rights are  threatened by brutal dictators. Hesitating and hand-wringing when confronted by  violence discourages the human-rights activists on the front lines and emboldens  the enemy. Obama’s aversion to committing U.S. troops to another Middle East  conflict is commendable, but his opposition to help people fight for themselves  by selling them weapons is irresponsible. Isn’t it more humane to end a conflict  sooner and with fewer casualties than to allow it to drag on and kill more? A  Romney presidency would strategize early on to understand which Syrian  opposition groups seek an end to the Assad regime and offer greater freedom for  the Syrian people. Support for the responsible groups would be abundant and  comprehensive in a Romney administration.

A Romney administration would not have three consecutive U.N. vetoes from  Russia and China on a priority U.S. issue either, because it would lead the  Security Council discussions early and forcefully. The blame for an emboldened  Russia falls squarely with President Obama’s decision to ignore decades of  diplomatic history and reset U.S.-Russia relations. Obama’s policy of starting  over with Russia was welcomed by the Kremlin as a chance to be forgiven at no  cost. But the U.S. has paid dearly. A Romney administration would not have  wasted time by re-learning that history lesson.

Romney’s senior foreign-policy advisor, ambassador Rich S. Williamson, told  me, “On Syria, we see the flaws of President Obama’s lead-from-behind approach.  By deferring to the U.N. Security Council, the president had posture not policy,  and activity without action.” It is clear a Romney administration would not use  Kofi Annan, either.

A Romney administration also would not cave to the Russian demand to send a  small, unarmed observer mission to monitor violence. The U.S. ambassador to the  U.N., Susan Rice, failed to convince Russia to do more, instead meekly agreeing  to their proposal. Unarmed U.N. observers paid by U.S. taxpayers to watch a  brutal massacre could possibly be the biggest waste of money the Security  Council has ever authorized. After a few weeks of reporting from inside Syria  and despite seeing Syrian jets firing rockets into neighborhoods, the U.S.  agreed to end the observer mission in Syria without follow-up action. A Romney  administration would not be fooled by the typical Russian tactic of averting  action by demanding diplomatic unity. The lowest common denominator of  diplomatic agreement is generally a losing strategy.

President Obama believes getting along is more valuable than standing firm  for U.S. interests. In the case of Syria, this means the U.S. assumes that  30,000 Syrians killed is not our problem. It is an ethical dilemma that past  presidents have called a mistake. President Clinton even issued an apology for  not acting more aggressively when genocide came to Rwanda. While some U.S.  voters may welcome the Obama administration’s conciliatory posture on the  international stage, others grow increasingly uncomfortable with an America that  is easily stymied by the likes of Russia. A President Romney would never allow  America’s foreign policy to be submitted for approval by another country or  international organization.

Richard Grenell is the former foreign-policy spokesperson for the  Romney campaign and director of communications for several U.S. ambassadors to  the United Nations. He will be contributing to The Politics Blog on Esquire.com  throughout the Republican National Convention.



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