In Syria, Obama Sees a Yellow Light
In the desperate fight against the Islamic State, the Pentagon has it all wrong. It has been using color coding to designate the eligibility of various Syrian rebel groups to receive American aid. According to The Wall Street Journal, some groups were assigned green dots while others were given red and some yellow. This is where things went wrong. The last color should have been saved for the White House.
I do not accuse, in case you're wondering, President Obama of personal cowardice. I do, however, accuse him of an excess of caution and not knowing what he is doing. A Turkish official summed it up for the Journal this way: "The Americans color-coded; the Russians invaded."
Yes, the Russians did invade. They sent war planes, mechanized units and even troops into Syria. They have begun bombing missions, apparently hitting insurgents seeking to topple Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and not only, as Vladimir Putin promised, Islamic State units. Putin -- surprise! -- lied.
Obama says the Russians have stepped into a quagmire. I agree. Soon, Russians will be killed on the ground. Maybe then Putin will send more troops to protect the ones already there. In this way, his commitment would escalate. Clearly, though, he is aware of the risks. Just as clearly, he thinks they are worth taking. In other words, he knows what he is doing.
The U.S. in contrast seems to be at a loss. Obama has called for Assad to go. He hasn't gone. America has poured millions of dollars into training rebels to fight the Islamic State, but not those fighting Assad. It is picking and choosing among rebel groups and has not had much luck. The Pentagon has produced maybe four or five fighters -- yes, that's the correct amount -- while some of the others it has trained have gone over to the enemy, taking their equipment with them. The entire enterprise lends itself to parody were it not for the fact that 200,000 lives have been lost in Syria and 4 million people pushed out of the country.
Syria is a horror, and a complex one at that. At the onset of its civil war, I was among those who argued for American intervention -- arming the rebels, establishing a no-fly zone to suppress Assad's helicopters. I never wanted to see American troops in the country. One dumb Middle East war a generation is enough for me.
Obama did nothing. Syria festered. Obama drew a "red line" around the use of chemical weapons. Assad has since used chlorine gas. Obama did nothing. American credibility crumbled. The U.S. opened an air war against the Islamic State. It has done some damage, but it would be much more effective if there were spotters on the ground. Obama won't do that, either. A no-fly zone needs to be established. It is not too late to do something. By doing so little, the U.S. has allowed others to do so much.
At times, Obama talks like a Miss America contestant who vows, if she wins, to campaign for world peace. The president, in that spirit, said at the United Nations recently that guns alone will not defeat the Islamic State. "Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated with better ideas -- a more attractive and more compelling vision."
But we already have better ideas. How's not making women into sex slaves? How's not decapitating foreign hostages? How's not massacring prisoners of war? How's not destroying ancient religious sites? These are not bad ideas and they have been around and tested for quite some time. In fact, some originated in the region. How's the Golden Rule for a better idea?
Obama talks mush. The Islamic State needs to be fought. It is a fascist movement whose clarity of purpose attracts the lost and bewildered. Upward of 20,000 of them have flocked to Syria and Iraq from all over the world. They know our better ideas. They have rejected them in favor of violence. We need to kill them. There is no other way.
The war that Obama has avoided in Syria has cost many lives. The war he has avoided has swamped Europe with migrants. The war he has avoided has made a muddle of U.S. policy, provided an opening for the Russians, exhibited American irresoluteness and caused much pain -- everything from the continued barrel bombing of Syrian civilians to the drowning of Aylan Kurdi, the toddler refugee who slipped from his father's grasp and into the Mediterranean Sea. What color does the Pentagon have for him?
(c) 2015, Washington Post Writers Group