If there is one fact proven again and again in the Middle East, it is that what happens in one country affects other countries as well. Back in 2003, for example, when U.S. forces had just taken down the Baathist regime in Iraq and pulled Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was eager to deal away his weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism in order to avoid a similar fate. More recently, the Arab Spring started with one fruit seller setting himself on fire in Tunisia. The firestorm of protest he ignited rapidly spread across the entire region.
Keep all this in mind as you read—or watch—the horrifying news about Bashar al-Assad’s brutal, bloodthirsty crackdown in Syria. His soldiers are massacring people across the entire country, and most recently in Hama, a traditional center of protest against the Alawite regime. What might give Assad the impression he has impunity to slaughter his own people? Perhaps he is watching as rulers from Bahrain to Libya do precisely that—and get away with it.
The Libyan example might easily have gone the other way. The U.S. and our NATO allies intervened, after all, in March to stop Qaddafi from doing to Benghazi what Assad is now doing to Hama. We did manage to keep Benghazi free, but since then, NATO’s dithering and irresolution has allowed Qaddafi breathing room. By shooting his own people, the good colonel is managing to stay in power. Even with NATO committed to toppling him, he is managing to get away with further repression—largely because President Obama refuses to commit the full resources of the U.S. military to the task.
Make no mistake (as Obama would say): This is a lesson Assad is studying and learning from. No doubt he is being encouraged in his ruthlessness by the fecklessness of the U.S. and our allies in Libya. Thus, the people not only of Libya but of Syria—and the entire region—are paying the price for Obama’s “lead from behind” foreign policy.