Inside Obama’s Syria Choices (A Guide for Dissenting Diplomats)
Here are six ways we in the administration could’ve approached Syria differently – and why we didn’t.
Last week’s revelation that over 50 State Department diplomats have formally dissented from the Obama administration’s approach toward Syria—calling for greater use of U.S. military power to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad—is yet another reminder of how frustrating and demoralizing the policy has been, especially for those of us who played a role in shaping and implementing it.
But that’s not the same as asserting it is all Obama’s fault. Looking back on the course of the Syria crisis, it is tempting to see this only as a story of lost opportunities, serial missteps, and inept decision-making. The outcomes have been truly horrific—as many as 300,000 killed, millions of refugees, the rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS, and a disintegration of regional order that the world will be grappling with for at least a generation. This might seem to be a clear failure of American policy. But when one weighs the possibilities for greater U.S. action alongside competing goals, and the demands of managing trade-offs and risks, it is more accurately a cautionary tale of the limits to American power, or anyone else’s.
Given the threat ISIS poses and how horrific the situation in Syria has become, one must constantly ask what the U.S. could have done differently. Aside from a full-scale intervention like in Iraq in 2003, were there alternative courses in Syria or Iraq? The short answer is yes. One must acknowledge, however, that none of these alternatives would have been easy, may not have worked, and risked making things even worse.
Six possibilities stand out...