Little reported and likely even less noticed was the fall of Quasir, Syria. Rebel opposition to Bashir Assad’s regime had held the city for several months until artillery, continuous airstrikes and a large ground assault drove the rebels out of the city. Today, burned out buildings mark the grave of the city and hundreds of rebel and Syrian soldiers.
But the city also marks something else. The death of an American foreign policy based on humanitarian interests and protecting the weak. When President Bush came to office he promised a “humble foreign policy.” Bush had been shaped by his fathers struggles in the arena and Clinton’s successes with limited actions. But 9/11 changed that. Bush went with the advice of Cheney and Rumsfeld and a foreign policy based not just on fighting terrorism but protecting the weak was born.
Afghanistan and Iraq highlight what this foreign policy can do. Americans have shed blood and treasure to help the individuals of these nations. Thousands of soldiers gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. But despite the instability in both countries they are radically different from where they were pre-9/11. Today, in Afghanistan women are going to school and can show their faces in public. In Iraq, women and girls do not have to worry about being picked up by Saddam’s Royal Guard and raped or tortured.
Despite the good this foreign policy did, Americans largely turned away from it. The wars drove the elections of 2006 and 2008 and ushered in new leaders with drastically different visions on what American foreign policy should be. Enter Barack Obama, stage right. Obama campaigned on helping the downtrodden globally but he also railed against the cowboy actions of his predecessor. Bush, ever the gentleman has yet to respond to such charges. Fortunately, Dick Cheney has.
The roots of Obama’s foreign policy are clouded but it has largely been opportunistic and oftentimes downright weird. In his first term the President insulted the queen of England, liberated Libya at the behest of our European allies and helped depose Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak, hardly a model of a democratic leader had been implementing democratic reforms in the country while holding its Muslim fundamentalist base in check. Now, Mohamad Morsi, a fundamentalist through and through, runs the country and the Muslim Brotherhood has power that might even rival the secular military’s.
Let’s also not forget the Arab Spring. Afterall, it bears striking similarities to what is happening in Syria today. In the summer of 2009, millions of young people in North Africa and the Middle East rose up and screamed for democracy. Twitter showed pro-freedom riots in the streets of Tehran, Iran and the Revolutionary Guard cracking down on the protesters. Even in pro-Western countries such as Qatar and Bahrain the protests were put down with a heavy hand. But nary a peep came out of the administration. Troops were not called for but certainly words of support for the protesters were. At the worst it would have emboldened the youngest generation to push for more reforms and at best it could have toppled Iran’s regime in the region.
The current situation in Syria began in 2012. Religious opposition to Assad’s secular crackdown led to an open revolt. At the onset of the conflict some of the Syrian army defected to the rebels. The conflict has see-sawed back and forth and empty promises of support from Europe and America have been promised to the rebels on multiple occasions.
The fall of Quasir, which opens the door for Assad’s forces to march all the way to Aleppo, comes only a few weeks after a French report stated Assad had used NBC (nuclear, biological or chemical) weapons on his people. Obama and world leaders had said using such weapons crossed a “red line.” But when push has come to shove the President has backed down.
Russia, meanwhile has capitalized on DC’s gutlessness. They have actively aided Assad with trainers and supplies for a new SAM defense system. Hezbollah has funneled weapons and troops to the regime and the Iranian regime has further been able to tighten its control over Assad’s actions. Shocking a John Kerry meeting could not make Putin back down in his support for Syria. Is it any wonder why Iran continues its nuclear program?
US action in Syria does not have to get us actively involved in the conflict. American forces could establish no-fly zones over major refugee evacuation routes. Taking out the Russian air defense system would be a matter of dropping a number of Tomahawks on the known sites. The US could also actively supply the rebels with real-time information and arms.
But America’s geopolitical concerns should not the only thing considered. If Assad succeeds in reestablishing his control he is unlikely to not punish the major groups that revolted. He also is unlikely to accept the reported half million Syrian refugees in Jordan. A refugee population that is growing by the day. American foreign policy cannot stand for “greatness and protecting the weak” if the government stands by and watches chemical weapons be used against innocent civilians. Nor then can America pick and choose who to help and be shocked when the world loathes us (help Libya and Egypt, sure, why not? But Syria, oh no). Quasir, Syria, marks just how far our great nation has fallen.