Obama’s Exacerbation of the Syrian Civil War
Former President Obama and left-leaning bureaucrats have been quick to criticize President Trump for his ‘anti-refugee’ stance, and ostensible nonchalance to the plight of Syrian citizens in the wake of extreme sectarian violence and bombings.
However in light of the inflammatory accusations of heartlessness and quiescence to Russian bombings and quasi-Soviet influence, the question of what the left has done to stop these atrocities begs an answer. Listing all of the effects that Obama’s foreign policy have had on the Syrian Civil War -- a conflict already characterized by a confounding amount of fighting sects and contesting factions -- is more suited for a dense book than an article; so for the sake of succinctness, only its effects on the three main players will be examined.
In 2009, two years after the “Surge’’ (which Senators Obama and Clinton deeply criticized) al-Qaeda in Iraq had become choked and crushed to the point of extinction. Their former recruiting networks in al Anbar Province had turned against them in the form of the U.S. sponsored ‘Anbar Awakening.’
The U.S had drastically changed its policy to micromanage political and military Iraqi leadership to avoid further Shi’a abuses pushing Sunnis towards jihadist groups. Inter-Iraqi sectarian violence monumentally decreased and al-Qaeda in Iraq -- which would essentially become ISIS -- had been pushed almost entirely out of the country. Then on August 31st, 2010, then-President Barack Obama announced that he would fulfill his campaign promise by rapidly pulling the United States out of Iraq, and the jihadists of the Levant rejoiced.
ISIS, which had been pushed out of Iraq and scattered into Syria, were given hope as civil war and sectarian resentment boiled in Iraq once more. They began attacking Iraq cities within 30 days of the U.S. troop extrication. Without U.S. supervision, the Shi’a regime once again cracked down on Sunnis and kicked them out of all military command and political positions. Shi’a bureaucrats seized land and assets from the Sunnis, and restricted public welfare that went to their communities pushing young tribal men to the arms of gift-bearing and glory-promising ISIS.
The disgruntled Sunnis filling the lower ranks of the newly reformed Iraqi army, had no loyalty to a Shi’a government which had removed all of their representation and leadership, and thus no desire to fight against the now creeping influence of ISIS. With nearly all of the Sunnis that had served in the Iraqi Security Forces now either defecting to ISIS or deserting to return home and protect their families, the Iraqi government was unable to organize any real defense against the encroaching ISIS, and they quickly lost a third of their territory.
After commencement of the 2011 Syrian Civil War, ISIS saw another opportunity to exploit a frustrated Sunni populace, and with its new territorial base of operations in Iraq, was able to launch an assault and take large swaths of territory in northwestern Syria. ISIS in Syria numbers in the tens of thousands and is officially responsible for more than 1500 civilian’s deaths in 2016 alone (the real number is likely much larger) -- some even tortured to death.
To be fair, the most infamous error of inaction is former President Obama’s cross to bear alone, and not left-leaning politicians as a whole -- the “red line.” Obama surprised his own administration and party when in August of 2012 he warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that if Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, it would “bear enormous consequences.” The following year, Assad began using sarin gas on his own people, most infamously in Ghouta, and the world waited to see what Obama would do.
It is worth noting that the President would not have been outside of former executive precedent to immediately respond with the nearby Tomahawk Missile-carrying Destroyers in the Mediterranean, or the deployment of air assets stationed in Bahrain and Kuwait in order to establish a no-fly zone.
However, the President instead ostensibly asked a skeptical Congress for approval of a military strike in Syria. Some critics say that Obama did not want to jeopardize the JCPOA negotiations with Iran (the Iran nuke deal) that were secretly taking place in Oman, so he went to Congress -- knowing they would say no -- so that he could shift the blame from himself.
Obama’s failure to directly stop Assad from committing egregious humanitarian violations led him to broker a deal with Russia, in which they would convince Assad to destroy his stash of chemical weapons and cease using them on his own people. This deal did essentially nothing to stop Assad, and he has continued to use chemicals weapons against his populace, which is partially responsible for the nearly 9000 civilians his regime killed last year.
Free Syrian Army
In exacerbation of the conflict via Assad and ISIS, Obama’s errors were mainly of inaction, but his assistance to the Free Syrian Army was much more active. In September of 2014, Obama signed a bill that ordered the arming and training of Syrian rebel fighters for the fight against ISIS.
At face value, assisting a militia in the fight against ISIS may seem like a prudent way to quell extremist violence and not exacerbate it, but the real result was much different. The Obama administration had not properly assessed the stability of the amalgamation that made up the “Free Syrian Army,” and did not realize they were actually just a loosely-linked coalition of thousands of different militia with highly differentiated goals and motivations -- none too few of which were Islamist or extremist in nature.
The rebels that the Obama administration armed and trained nearly all defected to jihadist groups like Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, the al-Nusra Front (also called al-Qaeda in Syria) and ISIS; and have largely fought against Assad and civilians opposed to an Islamic state instead. Rebel groups were officially responsible for more than a thousand civilian deaths in 2016 alone (the real amount of deaths is, again, likely much larger).
People critical of the right-wing and President Trump’s seeming aloofness pertaining to the refugee crisis caused by the Syrian Civil War should perhaps re-examine the regional effects of their own decisions. If not this, then at least recognition of the underlying hypocrisy of linking a bureaucratic inaction with inhumanity immediately after defending their Nobel-Prize winning champion’s indolence.