Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Obama's unprofessional handling of Syria's gas attack

One could write a book about all the things the Obama administration is doing wrong in Syria and regarding the gas attack. There wouldn't even be a civil war without US involvement. Instead I will try to describe how a more professional Obama would have acted:

How Obama should have reacted to the Syrian gas attack

- He should have started with declaring his horror, immediately asking for an UN investigation (instead he didn't hurry) and offering to send atropine to the region. No condemnations. No threats.

- If he had evidence that the government used the poison gas he should first provide the evidence and let the world evaluate it. Only when that is convincing should he discuss retaliation. He should also be prepared to accept it if the rest of the world considers it insufficient - as happened with prior gas attacks.

- He should be prepared to take accusations that the rebels used gas seriously.

- He should shed his attitude that Russia is up to no good. In fact Russia and China gave him the green light in case of Libya and he terribly abused it. Now he is in the position that has to show that he has improved. It may feel humiliating for a president of the US but it is well deserved.

- He should have complimented the Syrian government for allowing the inspections - instead of reacting by increasing his hostility. Better late than never.

- Both the wave of criticism after Assad allowed the inspections and the refusal to wait for the results of the UN inspection suggest that Obama doesn't really care about the chemical attacks and just sees it as an opportunity to bomb Syria. This radiates narrow-mindedness and opportunism. It certain won't win him influence among the countries that support Syria.

- He should be prepared to wait for the result of the UN inspections.

- He should only attack with permission of the Security Council.

- He should stick to the fact instead of holding misleading talks about Syria being a threat to the US.

- Russia and Iran should get time to formulate their reactions. Khomeini was so much against chemical weapons that he forbade their use even when Iran was attacked with them by Iraq - so one can be sure that Iran won't be enthusiastic about Syrian use of chemical arms.

- Assad should get time to formulate a reaction. One of the possibilities is that the chemical arms were fired by some rogue officer in the Syrian army. Assad punishing some of his soldiers - even if they are scapegoats - would be an acceptable outcome.

- A considerable number of Syrians support Assad as the lesser evil compared to the Islamist dominated rebels. Chemical arms could make them change their minds and as such are not a very wise policy for Assad. A precedent of how the public opinion could react is the Houla massacre that increased support for the rebels. Given this and other considerations there can be expected to be considerable discussion within Syrian government ranks if the US provides convincing evidence that the government fired chemical weapons.

- Red lines are for children and troublemakers. It is ridiculous that some people are now discussing the situation in terms of Obama's credibility instead of the need to stop the use of chemical arms. Besides that, credibility doesn't work that simple.

- If there was armed retaliation it should consist of only a few missiles. With the message that next time there would be more.

- The primary goal should be preventing a repeat. If for example the Russians would refuse to support a resolution but would be prepared to effectively pressure Assad that no repeat should happen this should be considered a success.

The above may sound as very time consuming and likely to lead to no action. However, one should consider the following:
- all the noise about attacking Syria distracts the attention from the chemical weapon use dispute
- one of the two things we are now waiting for is the US finally disclosing its evidence that Assad used chemical arms. The US could speed this up.
- the more civilized tone of the debate would invite Russia and Iran to take part
- the time would be used for a very realistic discussion. One caveat: it might take effort to keep it going.
- With power comes responsibility and that is usually implemented with procedures. Keeping to procedures would mean that Washington shows real leadership - instead of dictatorship.

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