Thursday, August 22, 2013

Syria -- What Can We Do?



The "red line" in Syria has been crossed.  For at least the second time and perhaps more times, chemical weapons have been used.  So far the Obama Administration has totally failed the leadership test in response to this outrage.  Having first said that if chemical weapons were used there would be an effective response by the United States, we appeared to the world to do little or nothing following the first chemical attack.  The second known attack has been bigger and even more destructive and our reaction has been the same: We don't know enough to react.

There are perfectly good reasons for not directly entering the conflict in Syria.  Both sides of the internal warfare appear to be anti-American.  Military intervention would seem to be a bad option and even arming the rebels is problematic.  But that does not mean we are without options and it is disturbing that the President is so bound in ideologic chains that he is unwilling to pursue some obvious ones.

Instead of doing yet another "campaign swing" through Pennsylvania and New York, President Obama might focus on the Middle East crisis that he has helped spawn and which is rapidly spinning out of control.  He should be calling representatives of the Arab League and/or OPEC to the White House and demanding that they step up to the turmoil in their region.  What he should tell them is that is that if they do not show some leadership, leadership that we can support, he will immediately ramp up oil production in the United States so that we are able to dominate world supplies.  He will approve the Keystone Pipeline,  he will open up oil drilling leases on public lands and he will seek regulatory and financial incentives to allow the oil industry to rapidly bring new supplies to market.  Moreover, he will encourage policies that result in long-term energy contracts with Europe, Japan, Korea, China and others for the United States to play a prominent role in supplying their energy needs now and in the future.

President Obama also could use similar leverage on the Russians.  President Putin has been unwilling to hold his Syrian ally accountable for their genocide and use of weapons of mass destruction.  Putin also has been publically dismissive of United States demands that he take action and has used events like the Snowden affair to openly mock US leadership weakness.  Instead of refusing to summit with Putin one on one, President Obama should go to a summit meeting with an agenda.  That agenda would include questioning continued Russian support of Syrian atrocities and making clear that we are prepared to step up natural gas production to assure Europe of adequate non-Russian supplies.

Such an approach to the Syrian crisis has several advantages. It reasserts a US leadership role in a manner that is economically beneficial to us. If we were forced to carry out what the President would threaten, the result would be a strengthening of the American economy.  We would limit any US military response to a plan formulated by the Middle East players themselves and thus gain tremendous leverage.  We would strengthen Israel's hand by strengthening our own.

So why wouldn't the President get off the campaign trail and pursue a foreign policy objective that has a strong chance of success and extends the reach of American power using American resources? The answer is that he is as unwilling to utilize those resources as he is to effectively use military might.  To stop the chemical warfare, to stop the genocide, to reassert American values, he would have to directly confront his environmental political allies.  Because he is apparently unwilling to do that, we are left with making threats we will not carry out and weakening our hand throughout the world.  Climate change politics evidently has replaced genocide as our most important concern.  That's quite a come-down for a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

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