Three stories of an international nature caught the eye this week. The first is the ongoing dilemma in Syria, where the Assad regime continues to murder and torture its way into prominence among the worst tyrannies in modern history.
The Syrian situation may not be a particularly big deal in the scope of things – Assad has killed far fewer people than Saddam Hussein had, for instance – but the enormity of what is occurring in that wretched country cannot be ignored by civilized people. Syria is, properly, a long-time enemy of the United States; being a key state sponsor of terrorism dating back at least to the 1980’s, sending insurgents into Iraq to kill Americans, bankrolling, training, and supplying Hezbollah in Lebanon, assassinating the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, engaging in a nuclear weapons program of their own (gratefully brought to a smoldering end by the Israeli Air Force) -- all even prior to turning the scythe on their own population in earnest.
In spite of all this, President Obama, in his global quest to put all the world right immediately after occupying the White House, announced a soon-to-become ubiquitous “reset policy” regarding Syria. Attempting to repudiate what he saw as an imperially arrogant approach to the nation by his predecessors, Obama held high level talks with Syrian officials, re-appointed an ambassador to Damascus, and generally reveled in the talk of newly-warm relations between the two countries.
It does not seem to have worked out very well. It would be unfair to suggest that the current bloodletting is a direct result of American appeasement, and to be sure there does not appear to be many good options available; every alternative -- from direct U.S. military intervention, to ignoring the situation, and everything in between – poses its own set of disadvantageous consequences. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder, especially in light of all the other events occurring in the region of late, whether the aimless, confused, and schizophrenic approach that has been the signature of the Obama administration’s foreign policy may have exacerbated events, and made a solution all the more difficult to formulate.
The most pressing international problem faced by America remains, of course, Iran and its now obvious nuclear ambitions. Many of the same hallmarks that lighted Obama’s approach to Syria are evident in his treatment of Iran, with much graver consequences. The President’s initial strategy of warming to the Iranian Mullahcracy seems to have finally gone the route of his other maddeningly naïve national security ideas (closing Guantanamo, immediately withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, trying enemy combatants in civil courts, etc.), though possibly too late.
Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are clear and becoming more so regularly. Clear too, is the fact that a nuclear-armed Iran is quite simply unacceptable. Such weapons in the hands of the Iranian regime pose consequences too horrific to bear much contemplation; including the unconcealed existential threat to Israel, the extortion that would be leveled over the bulk of the world’s oil supply, nuclear proliferation in the region that happens to be the most volatile tinderbox on the planet, and the very real risk of a weapon, with the potential of reducing substantial chunks of Manhattan, Washington, Denver, or San Francisco into radioactive rubble piles, in the hands of the only entity to have successfully struck American soil in almost 70 years.
America needs to act decisively, and quickly, in preventing this nightmare. Unfortunately, decisiveness in international affairs has not been a quality that Obama and his crew have shown a penchant for, and even the relatively simple expedient of enabling an Israeli strike is becoming more impracticable as time progresses.
The third concern centers on the continuing ascension of Vladimir Putin. Russia, the other target of Obama’s reset policy, has been steadily regressing back towards the authoritarian traditions of its recent Soviet past, under a President who was a card-carrying member of the nomenklatura, and who seems intent on restoring life under Gulag to his country. While perhaps not exactly surprising for a nation with no historical tradition of rule of law, liberal democracy, or economic and political freedom, it is still worrisome. While Russia, led by a prototypical chekist, and fuelled by oil and gas prices that have been in its favor, seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East and elsewhere, the United States seems intent on weakening its own.
Perhaps instead of arranging for someone like Sandra Fluke to hijack an issue by prattling on about how everyone else should subsidize the contents of her bathroom cabinet, the Administration could devote some time and effort towards considering how best to handle international questions that bear nuclear implications.