I have followed the civil war in Syria since it began. Disheartening as it is, the news that Bashir al-Assad authorized the use of sarin nerve gas on his people (likely for a second time) was no particular surprise to me. While I understand the reasoning behind the Obama Administration's condemnation of the attack and the reluctant decision to consider a military response, I remain undecided as to a proper response to Assad's actions. Syria is a mess with good guys in short supply. The fact is that while there are plenty of policy options on the table (invade, bomb a lot, bomb a little, do nothing), none of them are very good choices.
Those bad choices are made worse by the reluctance of traditional American allies to support us. This has less to do with the fact that there are no good options or even international criticism of Obama foreign policy than it does with the very painful reality that our Bush-era post 9/11 foreign policy choices were so grossly abusive of our allies. The ways we handled Afghanistan in the years after our invasion have not inspired the world's confidence, let alone our allies. There, an attack that might very well have had a legitimate purpose, rapidly evolved into a morass of poor planning made worse by the arrogance of American leaders. But it was our ill-advised invasion of Iraq, driven by the
assertions lies that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that really tipped the balance against the U.S. as an honest broker of foreign policy information.
Between Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands of people have died as a result of American hubris. There is a continuing price to be paid for it, as the Obama Administration is learning right now. In dealing with Syria in 2013, we are reaping the consequences of America's failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. The world no longer sees the U.S. as a reliable voice of the moral high ground. Our motives are suspect and our judgment is no longer guaranteed to be trustworthy.
In the meantime, the U.N. estimates that more than 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced. There are thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Innocents suffer and die while different factions in Syria maneuver for power. The Syrian government is a threat to its own citizens. Just as there seem to be no good choices for the Syrians, there are no good choices for American foreign policy toward Syria. Worse yet is the reality that in the United States we have lost sight about the source of our foreign policy leadership failure, seemingly anxious to prove decisively that we are no longer fit to lead the world.