How big of a disaster is the Obama administration’s approach to Syria? So big that even reporter David Sanger, who can hardly be accused of being unfriendly to the administration (he has been the recipient of some of its most self-serving leaks), is essentially editorializing disapprovingly on the front page of the New York Times about where this is heading. He writes:
Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.
That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.
The second paragraph may be phrased as a question but there is little doubt what Sanger thinks. Pretty much the same thing that most informed observers think. As Jackson Diehl writes in the Washington Post (in an opinion piece that is labeled as such): “His catastrophic mishandling of the revolution in Syria” may well turn out to be “the signal foreign policy disaster for Barack Obama.”
Diehl traces the origins of that disaster back to Obama’s original intention to “engage” with Bashar Assad and boost him as a supposed “moderate,” which led to the tardiness of the president’s decision to call for his ouster after the start of the revolution and now to the hands-off attitude which is indirectly empowering Syrian jihadists who are receiving arms from the Gulf while more moderate opposition groups go begging. It is still not too late for the U.S. to take a more constructive approach, as I suggested as long ago as December 2011 in The Weekly Standard and as recently as September (in an article co-authored with Michael Doran) in the New York Times, but every day that the U.S. stands on the sidelines the disaster grows worse, both morally and strategically, and it spreads from Syria to bordering states such as Turkey.