October 23, 2013
A LEGISLATOR, NOT AN EXECUTIVE:
Obama's Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed (MARK MAZZETTI, ROBERT F. WORTH and MICHAEL R. GORDON, October 22, 2013, NY Times)
Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2013 4:26 AMA close examination of how the Obama administration finds itself at this point -- based on interviews with dozens of current and former members of the administration, foreign diplomats and Congressional officials -- starts with a deeply ambivalent president who has presided over a far more contentious debate among his advisers than previously known. Those advisers reflected Mr. Obama's own conflicting impulses on how to respond to the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring: whether to side with those battling authoritarian governments or to avoid the risk of becoming enmeshed in another messy war in the Middle East.And, as the debate dragged on, the toll of civilian deaths steadily rose, Syria's government was emboldened to use chemical weapons on a larger scale, and America's relations with some of its closest allies were strained.Some of Mr. Obama's defenders argue that, while the past two years of American policy on Syria have been messy, the events of the past six weeks have been a successful case of coercive diplomacy. Only under the threat of force, they said, has Mr. Assad pledged to give up his chemical weapons program. They argue that this might be the best outcome from a stew of bad alternatives."We need to be realistic about our ability to dictate events in Syria," said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. "In the absence of any good options, people have lifted up military support for the opposition as a silver bullet, but it has to be seen as a tactic -- not a strategy."But others are far more critical, saying that the administration's paralysis left it unprepared for foreseeable events like the Aug. 21 gas attack. Decisive action by Washington, they argue, could have bolstered moderate forces battling Mr. Assad's troops for more than two years, and helped stem the rising toll of civilian dead, blunt the influence of radical Islamist groups among the rebels and perhaps even deter the Syria government from using chemical weapons.As one former senior White House official put it, "We spent so much damn time navel gazing, and that's the tragedy of it."