The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Putin wrestles Obama on foreign policy stance in Syria

3 min read
An off-the-cuff comment might have saved Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from a U.S. military strike, but can it save President Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy?

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An off-the-cuff comment might have saved Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from a U.S. military strike, but can it save President Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy?

Obama’s actions overseas have been geared toward two goals: wrapping up the war on terror and improving America’s reputation abroad.

The killing of Osama bin-Laden, drone strikes against Al Qaeda, the surge in Afghanistan and the withdrawal from Iraq are consistent with Obama’s first goal, but in regards to the second point, it is hard to argue that America is in a stronger geopolitical position.

By intervening in Libya, Obama aided in the overthrow of a dictator, and, by doing so, he may have saved thousands of civilians from slaughter. Libya’s civil war had a few thousand dead before it provoked a NATO bombing campaign. In Syria it took over 100,000 causalities and an atrocious breach of international norms to pluck the president’s humanitarian instincts.

Now, how will the international community and history judge him for this?

The U.S.’s involvement in Syria’s civil war consisted of political hand-wringing interrupted by images of Assad’s gruesome gas attacks against civilians. This was followed by weeks of dithering and an unprecedented lack of enthusiasm for action from the public.

Posterity will remember that it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who took the jet fuel out of Obama’s rocket ride to another foreign intervention.

After Secretary of State John Kerry said a war could be avoided if the Syrian government turned over its entire stockpile of chemical arms to the international community, Putin quickly seized the opportunity to save their client state.

After consulting their partners in Damascus, it was a done deal. Kerry and the Russians signed a deal in Geneva last weekend.

This was heralded as a success, but the world should be cautious. There is no historic precedent for finding, cataloging and destroying weapons of mass destruction in a warzone. The U.S. and Russia both appear to agree that Syria has over 1,000 metric tons of poison gas in its arsenal.

The agreement, which is a paltry four pages long, is bereft of any feasible enforcement mechanisms and is presently unfit for such a daunting disarmament mission. Arms control experts agree that the one year timetable probably cannot be met with the Assad regime’s full cooperation, according to the New York Times.

After all, ten years and one deposed dictator later, we are still working to destroy Libya’s chemical weapons.

Nonetheless, the agreement was hailed as an international success for one president and unfortunately, it will not be ours.

It seems obscene and otherworldly, does it not? A former K.G.B. agent utilizing the desirable but fanciful notion of voluntarily disarmament to bail out an American president so that he would not have to follow through on his threat to bomb a bloodthirsty, WMD-wielding despot, all the while looking like a reasonable statesman to millions war-weary Westerners.

Putin’s favorite sport, after shirtless bear wrestling of course, seems to be kicking Obama in the teeth. As if blocking every single Syria-related resolution at the United Nations Security Council was not enough, the Russian president spent this summer dominating the news cycle by rebuffing American demands for the extradition of former contractor turned leaker, Edward Snowden.

The drawn and redrawn lines over chemical weapons, the Syrian civil war’s ghastly body count, the inarticulate case for intervention and Putin’s pact leaves Obama weakened in the eyes of the world. It is hard to see how he will salvage his credibility and his leverage abroad.

Max Reinhardt is Chairman of the UMW College Republicans.