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Columns

July 8, 2013

LYONS: Taking no position in Syria

(Continued)

It’s not clear that Clinton spelled out exactly what a take-charge guy like himself would be doing in Syria — which may be a good thing, given his wife’s key role in the Obama administration’s wait-and-see policy.

Indeed, the former Secretary of State’s pronouncement at a 2012 conference in Istanbul that dictator Bashar al-Assad needed to leave Syria contributed mightily to the White House’s predicament. Taking sides in a sectarian civil war while refusing to get involved wasn’t terribly clever. That Clinton reportedly urged Obama to arm anti-Assad Sunni rebels makes the diplomatic blunder no less egregious.

Now that the Syrian dictator, with Russian and Iranian assistance, seems on the verge of defeating his enemies, President Obama has agreed to provide small arms to rebel groups —something unlikely to prove decisive.

Asked how he imagined Syria after Assad, a rebel commander told the New York Times’ Bill Keller “maybe Somalia plus Afghanistan.” In short, chaos and slaughter, a horrifying prospect to the crusading editor, who nevertheless thinks Obama needs to get the U.S. more deeply involved in deciding which mob of Syrian religious fanatics gets to massacre its enemies.

Perhaps sensitive to criticism, President Obama gave an extraordinarily frank interview to CBS’s Charlie Rose. “This argument that somehow we had gone in earlier or heavier in some fashion,” he said, “that the tragedy and chaos taking place in Syria wouldn’t be taking place, I think is wrong.”

In essence, the president argues that there are no good options in Syria and never were. Would establishing a no-fly zone, for example, mean bombing Damascus? What about civilian casualties? And what happens if chemical weapons stored there get hit?

“Unless you’ve been involved in those conversations,” he said, “then it’s kind of hard for you to understand the complexity of the situation and how we have to not rush into one more war in the Middle East.”

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