You have no doubt seen the news that more chemical attacks occurred in Syria. This is the second significant attack since Trump took office, but it is beyond the 60th attack so far in the civil war.
As the war has raged in Syria, the U.S. has mostly just watched. Terrible atrocities have been committed on repeat, and we have done nothing. There is more than enough evidence to justify NATO and UN intervention, but no one has pulled the trigger. Assad has literally carried out genocide, and we have watched. Why?
The Syrian civil war began during the Arab Spring. A number of Middle Eastern countries were leveled by fast-paced rebellions that had governments replaced in a matter of weeks. It looked like the same would be true in Syria, but Assad was fast to retaliate and didn’t hesitate to attack rebels with chemical weapons. He continued that practice with impunity for five years, and the death toll in the conflict surpassed 500,000.
The first retaliation came from Trump last spring, and ever since, tensions have pushed to greater heights. But, how did we get to this point? As you no doubt assume, the bulk of blame for this situation rests on the Nobel Peace Prize winning President named Obama.
One of the biggest reasons Assad survived the initial onslaught from rebels was Russian support. They have long had bases within Syria’s borders, and they protected their assets when the revolution began. This was enough of a momentum swing to create the long, deadly standoff in Aleppo.
Now, normally you could count on the U.S. and NATO to counter Russian aggression. That was the MO for about 40 years. In this case, Obama minimized western responses because the events broke shortly after his promise of a Russian reset.
Rather than upset the country he really cared about by intervening in Syria, he largely left it all alone. You’ll notice that the same wasn’t true in other conflicts of the Arab Spring. Obama had no qualms with intervening in Egypt and Libya. His inaction in Syria was nothing other than Russian appeasement. It didn’t work with Hitler, and it hasn’t worked with Putin.
The Iran Deal
Still, appeasing the Russian reset was a minor contributor to Obama’s decision making. The crux of the issue was Iran. They also supported Assad. Under the guise of attacking terrorists, they routinely supplied military support to Assad’s forces and against the rebels. These not-so-secret actions were overlooked by Obama and his supporters.
The reason? They wanted to nail down a nuclear deal with Iran. Ignoring Syria was an under-the-table incentive to keep everyone at the negotiation table.
Arguably, this could be an acceptable stance. Allowing genocide and atrocities in Syria to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power is almost justifiable. Unfortunately, Obama sold the souls of Syrian civilians for virtually nothing. His deal in no way impeded Iran’s aspirations for a ballistic nuclear stockpile. It basically gave them international immunity to continue developing weapons.
It also removed the bulk of sanctions against the country and threw in a huge chunk of cash. That cash was immediately used to fund military aggression throughout the Middle East. In the meantime, ethnic cleansing continued in Syria.
Cowardice of the UN
The UN had a part in all of this too. They have long been known for excessive inaction and a disturbing willingness to tolerate war crimes, genocide and human rights violations. In the case of Syria, they were simply following Obama’s lead. They went so far as to have weapons inspectors lie about removing chemical weapons from Assad’s control just to make Obama look good.
They also had the audacity to put Iran and Russia on the security council that decided whether or not Syria was violating human rights. They went to great lengths to make it impossible for a unanimously supported international coalition to intervene on behalf of what is right.
If the UN had upheld any of their tenets, the Syrian civil war would have ended within a year. Assad would have been deposed, chemical weapon usage would have been minimal, and hundreds of thousands of lives would have been spared. There is no promise that the next regime would have been fair and just, but it’s virtually impossible for it to have done worse than what we’ve seen from Assad.
That’s the gist. Assad got away with a years-long genocide campaign because Obama was an idiot. Or a coward. Or just plain evil. Who knows; maybe it was all three. What matters now is that he left Trump in a nearly impossible situation. Trump jumped on indecision and mixed expectations to retaliate against the chemical strike last year, but now the other players are ready. It’s hard to be sure when Putin is or isn’t bluffing, but Russia is vocal about their determination to protect Syria from American military interference.
At this juncture, Trump has two options. He can try to use his fierce negotiation skills and economic knowledge to try and leverage situations that keep Russia and Iran at bay. Or, he can opt for decisive military action. It’s anyone’s guess as to what he’ll choose, but there is no question that this is the tensest situation he has yet faced as President. Things can de-escalate, but there is a genuine threat that the Syrian civil war — left alone by the west for half a decade — could become a full-blown proxy war.
This may become the single most defining moment of Trump’s presidency. His strategies with ISIS and Al Qaeda have been impressively effective. While it’s early to celebrate, his hardline stance with North Korea is showing promising results. He even has China’s self-declared dictator assuring the world that trade war is the last thing they want.
Trump has proven an amazing diplomat, but at this juncture, none of that weighs as heavily as his next major decision. It’s easy to have hope, but the situation is still nerve-wracking. Hopefully, he will maintain his track record and this will be what cements him in history as one of the great American leaders.