Clinton-Obama policy on Syria always lacked credibility — is something better emerging?
“I really believe that we should have and still should take out Assad’s airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop Sarin gas on them,” proclaimed Hillary Clinton on Thursday, in her serial impersonation of Golda Meir. In 1973 Israeli Prime Minister Meir, as you recall, confronted the Yom Kippur War, a true existential threat. As the deliberative Meir detailed in her book, President Richard Nixon, under siege of possible impeachment, nonetheless overruled the Pentagon and ordered an unprecedented American military airlift to rescue the depleted Jewish state.
At about this time, young Hillary (remember the movie Young Frankenstein) was already in Washington, decrying “child citizens” as “powerless individuals”; shortly thereafter, young adult Hillary was working for the House impeachment committee, her own ethical lapses soon an issue. More than four decades later, the danger of a President Hillary Clinton became evident: She would prove her ferocity as a woman who views all foreign threats as existential.
The Left, in its frantic effort to delegitimize Donald Trump’s election, has created its own ominous, if unwanted scenario: that President Trump can best refute his supposed Russian complicity by going to war with Russia. A more moderate disproof: Trump’s main advisers incline against Vladimir Putin, Russia, and its main client state, Syria. Anyway, if Trump were Russia’s proxy, why would Putin “out” him with praise during the campaign? That’s not the way KGB-trained Putin works.
Meanwhile, right-wing isolationists disagree that Assad, like Saddam Hussein, would use chemical weapons to intimidate the opposition. These former Trump supporters claim that rebels, not Assad, used sarin gas as “false flag” incidents — in May 2013 to kill nearly 1,000 people to draw Obama (after Obama’s quite thin “red line”) into the conflict, and again last week “because the Syrian airstrike hit a rebel weapons depot where rebels had stockpiled chemical weapons.” All this presumably is a Goldman Sachs “Deep State conspiracy” to maneuver Trump into war, so a cabal of globalist bankers can buy stocks after the market crashes.
Fundamentally, the conspiracy zealots do not grasp that “America First” is not neither isolation or intervention. It simply means, as the founding statement of Young Americans for Freedom stated, “That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interest of the United States?”
The recently aired Netflix series Fauda chronicles an undercover Israeli team masquerading as Palestinians to uncover a terrorist plot in Syria… to do what? Deploy Sarin gas… against Israelis. But Israeli fiction does not depict Assad using sarin against Israel, because Assad knows the Israel Defense Force (IDF) would respond immediately and massively, including killing him and his family. After eight years of Obama, the thugs abroad do not take the U.S. seriously. Given Trump’s emphasis on rebuilding the U.S. military, will his quite limited, but counter-intuitive, rapid use of force last Thursday telegraph, in that context, that America is back?
Hillary was speaking Thursday at the Women in the World Conference, sponsored by Annie’s List, which aims “to prepare progressive women for office.” These are female leftists who oppose U.S. military action, except when a woman, notably Hillary, advocates it; then, they applaud. “We cannot in one breath speak of protecting Syrian babies,” Hillary continued the next day, “and in the next close America’s doors to them.” This is Hillary’s obligatory endorsement of Obama’s obsessive-compulsive infatuation with Islam and his intentional failure to distinguish between past, assimilated Muslim immigrants and more recent arrivals in Europe and here who feel our nation should change to suit them.
The plight of Syrian refugees is severe, all the more reason why Obama should have persuaded Arab nations (and Trump still should) to absorb innocent noncombatants, at least temporarily. Ideally, many would, in time, return to their native land. CNN Anchor Brooke Baldwin on Friday interviewed former Syrian rebel fighter Kassem Eid who emotionally thanked President Trump. “But [Trump] is a man,” Baldwin interjected, “who doesn’t want Syrians to come into this country with his refugee ban.” Eid responded, as Baldwin listened uncomfortably, that he did not see the pro-refugee demonstrators in the U.S. “raising your voice against President Obama’s inaction in Syria that made us refugees. If you really care about refugees, help us stay in our country.”
Let’s stop comparing Muslims fleeing Mideast violence to Jews fleeing Hitler. The religious persecuted in the Mideast have not been Muslims but Christians; the U.N. refugee camps and U.S. refugee policy discriminated against them.
Meanwhile, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson had proven the irrelevance in foreign policy of his party when he was asked last year, “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?” — a reference to the horrific epicenter of the Syrian civil war. “And what,” Johnson replied, “is a lepo?”
As for Hillary, let’s remember the longer story: During the Monica Lewinsky era, Bill Clinton’s Mideast policy was benign neglect. This was years after he had inherited America’s triumph in the first Persian Gulf War. The corrupt Yassir Arafat then had alienated the Arab world with his support of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. President Clinton inexplicably resurrected Arafat, thus squandering the unique chance for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Even Clinton outdid himself. In mid-1999, he urged Israel to give the Golan Heights back to a hostile Syria, then, led by the despotic Hafez al-Assad, father of Syria’s current “president for life,” the ruthless Bashar al-Assad. Sophisticated “technical means” could assure Israeli security, Clinton’s emissaries argued, so the Golan “high ground” was anachronistic. What if Bill Clinton’s stupid plan had become reality? Either Bashar al-Assad or ISIS would now control the Golan!
What happened? By late 1999, Hafez al-Assad was terminally ill. Clinton’s deal was off, because intelligence sources agreed (and surprised me) that the son Bashar would be worse than the father. Not atypical, as we now see, for example, in North Korea’s maniacal Kim Jong-un, son of Kim Jong-il. (Please read Jay Nordlinger’s Children of Monsters: An Inquiry Into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators.) Both Kims followed Communist models — the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin and Communist China’s Mao Tse-tung each starved millions; but the “young” Kim personally orders his relatives liquidated.
“The Middle East sucks,” observed Fox host Greg Gutfeld, which is to say, any U.S. policy is simply the least bad. Bush-Clinton-Bush blundered, but Obama was worse. Instant democracy in this region produces anti-American extremists like Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the nearly century-old Muslim Brotherhood. Obama opposed Egyptian General Abdel Farrah el-Sisi’s overthrow of Morsi in 2013. Hardly a civil libertarian, Sisi nonetheless is a moderate Muslim who opposes Iran, Islamists and Wahhabis, Al Qaida and ISIS, which took credit for the Coptic Church bombings in Egypt on Palm Sunday.
“Egypt’s authoritarian-minded president gets a warm White House welcome,” complained a headline last week of an editorial that pretended to be a news story in the increasingly churlish Los Angeles Times. Contrary to this selective focus on human rights, Americans should applaud President Trump’s realpolitik recognition that in a tough neighborhood, Sisi is, as Congressman Dana Rohrabacher repeatedly reminds us, our ally.
As for Syria, recall the “Bekka missile crisis” in 1981, the projectiles aimed at Israel then hardly compare now to the tens of thousands of Hezbollah missiles in Syria, embedded among civilians. Obama’s pro-Iran deal provided Iran with billions that could be used to target these Syrian-based missiles. And there is the Israeli Prisoners of War television series (now rebroadcast on American television) about Israeli POWs in Syria; the series, which properly depicts Iran-client state Syria as a terrorist sanctuary, was adapted in the U.S. years ago as HBO’s Homeland.
Putin’s attachment is nostalgic: The former Soviet Union, long ago, gave MIG jets to Syria, but Syrian pilots had an unfortunate tendency to crash them. In the decades since, the obsolete aircraft atrophied. Then again, why expect the debonair Bashar al-Assad — an ophthalmologist, London educated like his beautiful model-like wife, Asma — to grasp military preparedness? He prefers simply to kill indiscriminately, while his attractive wife pursues fashion shopping.
Last Thursday, President Trump ordered an attack on the Syrian airfield that, according to the U.S., had launched the Sarin gas attack. At the time Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese president Xi Jinping. “It’s like finding out your date was texting someone else all during dinner,” observed Greg Gutfeld. Jinping is deliberative; even he cannot act unilaterally. Had Trump gone to Congress for extended debate, he would have certified impotence. U.S. policy should be predictable, its military response should not. Because Trump’s swift action was unexpected, the expansionist Chinese cannot act confidently in the South China Sea and may now help with Korea.
Syria, Russia, Iran, other predators and North Korea are on notice. But Tomahawks don’t risk the lives of American pilots. And in Korea, the more than 20,000 American troops are vulnerable. Of the many growing threats Trump inherited from Obama, the irrational Kim of Korea is menacing and perilous. The limited U.S. strike in Syria will cause concern among some of Kim’s generals, but they dare not speak up. Kim not only crushes dissent but rationality. Prospects for mutiny and a coup are not, at present, sanguine. Can that change?
What now, in Syria and elsewhere? Ivanka Trump was “heartbroken and outraged by the images coming out of Syria following the atrocious chemical attack,” which President Trump called an “affront to humanity.” But revulsion is an emotion, not a policy; much of what passes as governance in the Mideast is an affront to humanity; where do we next express rage? Syria is another reason to beware of the axiom, “If you break it, you own it.”
“Abu Ivanka al-Amreeki,” proclaimed the Syrian rebels, who were suddenly given by Trump what Michael Weiss, an expert on ISIS, says was “a burst of energy,” because Trump sent them “a powerful message of hope.” Al Qaida and ISIS had been telling the rebels they cannot rely on the U.S. But the time to find and help the good guys in Syria was years ago on President Obama’s watch; he was AWOL and dissed them, as his administration undercut dissidents in Iran, because Obama wanted to legitimize this rogue nation.
Assad murders noncombatants daily. Thus, when Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster says, “We won’t stand by while Assad murders innocent civilians,” he implies regime change, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looks for “a political solution,” and U.N. Ambassador Nicky Haley implies military escalation. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense James Mattis maintains his own counsel. If we need an adult in the room, Mattis is the elder sage.
Congress is beset with knee-jerk Trump bashers like Schumer and Pelosi who will exploit any crisis for partisan gain. Right now, President Trump and his team need to be on the same page. And only then can our nation credibly tell its story through public diplomacy and the international media.