Barack Obama’s presidency will be defined by his failure to face down Assad

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic magazine earlier this year, President Obama said he was “very proud” of the moment in 2013 when, against the “overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom”, he decided not to honour his own “red line”, allowing Assad to escape accountability for a chemical attack that had killed more than 1,400 civilians.

Obama may be alone in this judgment. A year earlier, seemingly on a whim, he had set a red line on the use of chemical weapons at a time when none were being used. The red line was, in effect, a green light to conventional killing. But the regime called Obama’s bluff – and, predictably, he backed down. No longer fearing punishment, the regime escalated its tactics.

Nearly four times as many people were killed in the two years after the chemical attack as had died in the two years before. Obama’s abandonment discredited Syria’s nationalist opposition and empowered the Islamists. It helped Isis emerge from the shadows to establish itself as a major force. Together, these developments triggered a mass exodus that would displace over half the country’s population. And as the overflow from this deluge started trickling into Europe, it sparked a xenophobic backlash that has empowered the far right across the west.

These, however, weren’t the only consequences of Obama’s retreat. The inaction also created a vacuum that was filled by Iran and Russia. Emboldened by his unopposed advances into Ukraine and Syria, Putin has been probing weaknesses in the west’s military and political resolve – from provocative flights by Bear bombers along the Cornwall coast to direct interference in the US elections. [Continue reading…]

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