Last month President Obama seemingly put aside two years of hesitancy and indecision over what to do about Syria. He announced that, in response to Bashar Assad’s violation of the “red line” over the use of chemical weapons, he would be sending weapons to the Syrian opposition. But the president’s lack of comfort with this decision–announced by a lowly White House spokesman while the president was off attending to more important matters–was palpable and it has continued to affect the speed and force with which his executive decision is being implemented.
The New York Times reports that the weapons deliveries–limited to light weapons–still have not arrived and will not for weeks to come, at best. Nor has the training of the rebels in their use started. As the Times notes: “The cautious approach reflects the continued ambivalence and internal divisions of an administration that still has little appetite for intervention in Syria, but has been backed into a corner after American and European spy agencies concluded that Syrian government troops had used chemical weapons against the rebels.”
The current excuse for inaction is the fear that the weapons could fall “into the wrong hands.” But the “wrong hands”–that is, the jihadists–are already well armed; a few more deliveries of weapons aren’t going to make much of a difference to them, but it could be huge for the more moderate rebel factions.
Concerns about legalisms have also slowed the administration’s aid program. The Wall Street Journal reports how a group of administration lawyers has used concerns about international law to stymie plans to ship weapons. Would this be the same international law, one wonders, that Hezbollah and Tehran and Moscow violate on a recurring basis to arm Bashar Assad to carry out horrific human rights violations?
Apparently administration lawyers have tied themselves up into knots worrying about Bashar Assad retaliating against the U.S. for weapons shipments–yet somehow the Reagan administration managed to undertake much larger weapons shipments to the Afghan mujahideen, who were fighting an enemy far more powerful than the Syrian state. One suspects that the difference between then and now is that President Reagan was personally committed to fighting the Soviet Union. Obama, by contrast, is, as usual, paralyzed by indecision. He is willing to make heavily hedged statements calling for Assad’s removal but he is not willing to follow up with decisive action. Thus the bloodletting in Syria drags on, and the Assad regime continues to regain lost ground with the aid of Hezbollah and Iranian operatives, while the U.S. and our allies increasingly lose out.