The president’s Syrian muddle

Colin Hanna President, Let Freedom Ring
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The serious issue of what the US should do about Syrian President Assad and his use of chemical weapons on his own people has devolved into a full-on fiasco – one with many more twists and turns yet to come.

To say that Obama and Kerry – the Frick and Frack of this particular folly – have mishandled the situation from the start is too kind. They have so bungled it that they have reduced America’s leadership position in the world to that of a toothless tottering fool, declining into his second childhood, easily manipulated and exploited by those around him.

Ever since former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed her so-called “reset button” in U.S.-Russia relations four years ago, strongman Vladimir Putin has continually been getting the best of American leaders.

Whether it’s gaming the New START treaty by securing a 10-1 advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, or invading U.S. airspace in Alaska and Guam with nuclear bombers, or granting asylum to Edward Snowden – America’s most damaging spy in decades – Putin has outwitted and outplayed Obama, Clinton and Kerry every step of the way.

Now he has done it again, capitalizing on Secretary of State John Kerry’s ad-lib on securing Bashar Al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile in order to avert a U.S. military strike. Then he even got the New York Times to publish his op-ed. The spectacle of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, writing clearly if bluntly to the American people, one day after the American president delivered a speech that was so riddled with contradictions that it made viewers dizzy, is one that must deeply wound anyone who loves this country .
And now comes the hard part! How are we going to ensure that the Assad regime will actually give up its chemical weapons?

Though President Obama was pleased to get out of a self-inflicted jam over his “red line” comments on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, ironically, it was Putin, the ultimate puppet-master behind Assad, who bailed him out. As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wryly noted, “the president was offered a lifeline by the very regime he was planning to attack.”

Here’s a new twist on an old saw that we would do well to think about: when you strike a deal with the devil, expect to find the devil in the details.

And at this point, those details are far and few between. Team Obama agreed to the deal on Monday, but most Americans don’t know that Russia didn’t give us the plan until Wednesday. So which one is the superpower?

Do we really think a new team of UN weapons inspectors scouring a Middle Eastern dictator’s regime for weapons of mass destruction will be more successful than the last one? This task will be much harder than the one ten years ago. Then, Saddam Hussein was isolated, both militarily and diplomatically. Now, Bashar Al-Assad has Russia’s full support. He also has backing from Iran and Hezbollah, both of which do have boots on the ground. And deploying weapons inspectors in the middle of a civil war which has already claimed 100,000 lives in mostly urban settings is no easy feat. We can assume that UN inspectors will require a “peacekeeping” contingent prepared for combat before the weapons inspectors will set foot in Syria. And doesn’t that almost certainly mean “boots on the ground” for thousands of soldiers from UN member states – including ours? Who remembers the UN peacekeepers from Pakistan killed by warlords while inspecting weapons in Somalia?

The White House has consistently downplayed the ability of Syria’s military to strike at the U.S. military. While true, they always leave out the important details about Hezbollah’s track record of launching mass casualty terrorist attacks worldwide — in Argentina, Bulgaria, Israel and their home base of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Russia will continue to have Syria’s back. Syria represents not only billions of dollars in weapons sales, but also the Russian naval base at Tartus – Russia’s only remaining military facility outside the former Soviet Union .

Even though President Obama is right to recall Ronald Reagan’s phrase, “trust, but verify,” what good is it if the Russians don’t believe he can back up his words? President Reagan was respected as a man of integrity and action. Just ask Iran, Libya, and Grenada. President Obama simply does not have that reputation — and it shows.

Perhaps the New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd said it best, “the administration’s saber-rattling felt more like knee rattling. Oh, for the good old days when Obama was leading from behind. Now these guys are leading by slip-of-the-tongue.”

When we have war protesters as president and Secretary of State, we should not be surprised that they’re out of their competence zones when considering acts of war. The American people deserve better. We must wake up and send the White House a clear signal that a strong America, not a weak America, is the best guarantor of world peace.

Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring

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Colin Hanna