Obama created a vacuum in Syria that made matters worse in the region

Dennis Ross:
Few issues have confronted President Barack Obama with tougher dilemmas than Syria. Over the course of the nearly five years of the war within Syria, Obama has faced choices on how the United States should respond and he consistently decided to do the minimum. From the outset, when Bashar Assad’s response to calls for reform was draconian and turned peaceful demonstrations into an uprising, the president’s first instinct was avoidance. He looked at Syria and he saw entanglement in another ongoing Middle East conflict where our involvement would be costly, lead to nothing, and potentially make things worse. In nearly every meeting on Syria when presented possible options to affect the Syrian civil war, the president would ask “tell me where this ends.”

He was surely right to ask this question. But he failed to ask the corollary question: Tell me what happens if we don’t act? Had he known that not acting would produce a vacuum in which a humanitarian catastrophe, a terrible refugee crisis, a deepening proxy war and the rise of ISIL in Iraq and Syria would occur, his responses might have been different. However, it was hard for him to ask that question because when he looked at Syria, he saw Iraq.
In many ways, the vacuum in Syria has been compounded by the sense that the U.S. is retrenching in the region, creating a larger void that has helped to produce the increasing competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Iranians saw they ran little risk with the United States as they ramped up their regional activism and made the Qods force—the action arm of the Revolutionary Guard outside of Iran—more prominent in both the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. Indeed, Qassem Suleiman, the head of the Qods forces, who was previously a shadowy figure, has become a very public presence appearing at times on the ground during the battles over Tikrit in Iraq, al Qusayr in Syria, and other places in both countries. For the Saudis, the nuclear deal and the greater Iranian regional involvement fed their perception that the Obama administration was not prepared to set any real limits on Iran—or act on its red lines. As a result, it has decided to draw its own lines. It has done so in Yemen and will probably find it difficult to extract itself. Its execution of Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, may have been done as much for domestic reasons, particularly given the number of Sunni Al Qaeda operatives that were being executed at the same time, but the Saudis knew the Iranians would react. They had, after all, threatened the Saudis with retribution if they put him to death.
There is much more.

It is just another aspect of Obama's kowtowing to Iran that ahs made matter in the region much worse.  Unlike Ross, I think it is likely to led to a wider war.  It is already leading to a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran.


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