Friday, December 16, 2016

Aleppo a stain on Obama legacy - Prof. Abraham Ben-Tzvi

by Prof. Abraham Ben-Tzvi

As a superpower, the U.S. had a responsibility to be ready to use its power, including the wise use of military power.

In one month, President Barack Obama will leave the Oval Office after eight years. On the eve of his departure, the burning battlefield of Aleppo is attesting to his incomprehensible weakness in Syria and the larger international arena. 

There is no doubt that the atrocities committed in Aleppo will cast a dark shadow on Obama's legacy and possibly even his conscience, and will serve as a constant reminder for the American people of the disastrous consequences of a weak, placatory and spineless foreign policy when what was needed was a moral and strategic commitment to lead the international community.

The execution of hundreds of innocents with no hope of salvation inside the crushing grip of President Bashar Assad's forces in eastern Aleppo bears witness that under the 44th president's watch, the American nation refused to fulfill its most basic commitment. As a superpower, the U.S. had a responsibility to be ready to use its power, including the wise use of military power. When the president shamefully broke his explicit promise in September 2013 to use force against Assad's murderous regime if the "red line" was crossed by the use of chemical weapons, Obama categorically contributed not just to the continued bloodshed in Syria, but also to the shift in the balance of power between central players in the global arena. Russia was the one who filled the vacuum in the wake of the U.S.'s absence, becoming a major aerial fighting force in the war.

President Vladimir Putin clearly learned his lesson from Washington's failure to act. Half a year after Obama refused to fulfill his promise of action in Syria, on March 18, 2014, the Kremlin annexed the Crimean Peninsula. This signaled the start of the ongoing military push to topple the anti-Russian government in Kiev that came to power in February 2014. The White House's display of weakness in Syria during Obama's presidency is precisely what brought the Russian bear out from hibernation and into the center of the international playing field -- at the expense of the deteriorating influence of the American superpower.

It is obvious that the shadow cast by the failed war in Iraq was in mind as the White House recoiled from the challenge in Syria. Additionally, the risk of transferring advanced weaponry to pro-Western rebels was considerable. Despite this, all memories, repercussions and considerations should have been forgotten when the extent of the bloodbath became apparent. This proves just how far away Obama's and Secretary of State John Kerry's rhetoric was from the existence and true essence of leadership. In practice, real leadership is a type of conduct that does not refrain from standing face to face against the axis of evil and blood. True leadership does not substitute flowery speeches for decisive, even brute, force if necessary.

One can only hope that the correct conclusions and lessons learned will seep into Obama's conscience. With this in mind, the sweeping critique against appointing Rex Tillerson as secretary of state is nothing but hollow. When all is said and done, Tillerson created "terms of endearment" with the Kremlin after doing business based on the principle of mutual respect, and not the principle of one-sided concessions as in Obama's workshop.

Prof. Abraham Ben-Tzvi


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