The outcome in Syria could set the tone for diplomacy and negotiation in the Middle East for the next twenty years, but so far no one knows where to begin to help.
The death toll in Syria has already surpassed 10,000, and those are only the deaths. The victims of rape, torture, mutilation and other crimes that utterly shatter the concept of human dignity remain countless, remembered only in the haunted and broken lives that are left behind.
Children are not even spared from the conflict between the violent authoritarian regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is greatly aided by his ally, Iran, and the Syrian rebels who are fighting back against government massacres and raids. Children as young as 10 years old are used as military props on the front lines of both sides of the conflict, some as human shields, some as labor, and some are brutally interrogated and tortured for information.
Last week, the Human Rights Watch reported that Syrian women are being targeted by the government forces who use rape and sexual violence as a “Weapon of War.” Hundreds of women and young girls are sexually assaulted every day and hauled off to detention centers to be raped and tortured until they give the whereabouts of their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons who are wanted by the Syrian government.
Obama’s response? Step back and pull out.
His adminstration announced in late May that they condemned the actions of the Syrian government but they would not support any efforts to help the Syrian rebels, including supplying them with weapons or intervening military.
“The concern is that further militarization of the situation in Syria could lead to greater chaos,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “The nature and shape of and the membership of the opposition is still something that we and our partners are assessing, and that is another consideration that has to be acknowledged.”
Obama has decided that the best approach to the situation in Syria is to subtly pressure them by making them feel “isolated.” He has expelled the top Syrian diplomat in Washington and said, on Tuesday, that he and Russian president Valadmir Putin, ”pledged to work with other international actors including the United Nations.”
The Obama Administration’s decision not to intervene in Syria has been met with a great deal of criticism from Republican leaders, because instability in Syria most likely means a highly unpredictable, and potentially very dangerous, outcome in the Middle East.
“To say they are leading from behind is too general,” said Sen. John McCain. “That suggests they are leading. They are just behind…The Syrian opposition needs to know that the United States stands with them and that we are willing to take risks to support them when they need it the most.”
Likely Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney is using Obama’s stance on Syria as an example of the current President’s weak leadership in foreign policy.
“President Obama’s lack of leadership has resulted in a policy of paralysis that has watched Assad slaughter 10,000 individuals,” he said in a statement.
Romney has not gone so far as to advocate for military intervention in Syria but he supports sending aid to help the Syrian rebels arm themselves against the Syrian government.
It is too early to predict what the outcome might look like in Syria, but it means that whatever the result, Obama is going to have to have a solid foreign policy explanation for his decision to stay out of Syria despite intervening in Libya – an arguably less horrific situation – back in March.
Some critics contend that if Obama had intervened early on in the conflict instead of calling for a peaceful political transition, he could have pushed out President Assad before the violence escalated to this point.
He said then, reflecting on former President Bill Clinton’s lack of action in Bosnia and Rwanda, that he, “refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
Well, the slaughter is here. The mass graves are here. And what happens next may make or break the credibility of the Obama administration.