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Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Obama vs. Washington

M. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society, holds Syrian refugee Shayma Alaly, while speaking during a press conference of interfaith activists appealing on the Obama administration to accept more Syrian refugees on 16 September 2015 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Nearly everyone who has worked for President Barack Obama on Syria or Iraq has expressed outrage at his policy: former secretaries Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Leon Panetta; former CIA Director David Patraeus, former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, and his fellow retired diplomat Fred Hoff.

 

Former tsar of the war against ISIS John Allen has yet to speak out, but his resignation — presumably against the administration's unresponsiveness to his recommendations — speaks volumes.

 

In the military, the leadership has been professional enough to remain silent. And outgoing Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey — who once said that creating a Sunni national guard in Iraq was the cornerstone of his war plan against ISIS — eventually fell silent after it became evident that Obama was unwilling to challenge the Shiites of Iraq and Iran. Tehran has utterly rejected the possibility of an independent Sunni force that could eject ISIS but also check uncontested Shiite power in the region.

 

When America launched its air campaign against ISIS, CENTCOM Commander Lloyd Austin suggested embedding US advisors — who could also collect intelligence and pinpoint targets — with Iraqi troops. Obama shot the idea down. Last week, David Patraeus reiterated Lloyd’s suggestion, saying that US advisors would be safe if deployed at brigade level.

 

Shortly after Austin's suggestion, CENTCOM General Mike Nagata, who had been charged with creating a Syrian opposition force, resigned reportedly in protest of restrictions on his mission. Nagata stayed on, but Austin later told Congress that the program to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition had only produced "four or five fighters."

 

Disagreement over this Syrian force had earlier resulted in the resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, an old friend of Obama. Hagel had asked whether the US should provide air cover to Syrian opposition fighters when they engaged Assad's forces. The White House answered: resign.

 

Uncharacteristic of presidents who take the blame for their administration's mistakes, Obama has pushed back on his failure to train and arm Syrian opposition by blaming supporters of the plan, which he drastically downscaled a year ago.

 

For those who know Washington, it is not even necessary to wait for Obama's officials to retire before learning that their position on Syria and Iraq differs from Obama's.

 

Except for Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, we know that US Permanent Representative to the UN Samantha Power cried when she heard stories of survivors of Assad's massacres. John Kerry, who as a senator wanted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to interrupt Iranian arms shipments to Assad and thought that the only way to solve the crisis was to force Assad out of power by outmuscling him militarily, also seems unconvinced when reciting Obama's talking points on Iraq and Syria.

 

Obama's only achievement in Syria and Iraq has been to make everyone numb. Americans are no longer moved by images of massacres in Syria. They hear news about ISIS taking Ramadi and preparing to take Deir Ezzor, a year after it took Mosul, and think that — short of losing 4,000 US soldiers and spending 2 trillion dollars — there is no other way for America to roll terrorism back.

 

Obama's policy in the Middle East has been a complete failure. In Yemen, his idea of partnership with local forces crumbled in front of Iran's protégés. In Iraq, his trust that a national unity government was the silver bullet with which to kill ISIS was misplaced. In Syria, his expectation that when Assad weakened his sponsors would start calling Washington to compromise has been proven as wrong, as Vladimir Putin doubles down in shoring Assad up and undermines whatever sway America's allies have in Syria.

 

Whatever the president has hoped for in the Middle East, the opposite has happened.

 

To make things worse, Obama has painted an unrealistically rosy picture of Syria and Iraq. The White House has stuck to its narrative — and probably even pressed intelligence to doctor its reports — that the war to "degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS" is going as planned. It is not.

 

Obama has bet the farm on the nuclear deal with Iran. To do so, he has minimized America's intervention in Syria and Iraq, at the expense of terrorism spreading, just to appease Iran, believing that should Washington and Tehran become allies all other problems will be solved. Obama's superficial understanding of the region has prevented him from realizing that to eradicate ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Washington needs Sunni friends rather than Shiite.

 

Because of Obama's inexperience on foreign policy and inadequate understanding of the Middle East, America has let a volatile region blow up. And now the unfolding disaster is on Obama, and on him alone.

 

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai. He tweets @hahussain

M. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society, holds Syrian refugee Shayma Alaly, while speaking during a press conference of interfaith activists appealing on the Obama administration to accept more Syrian refugees on 16 September 2015 in Washington, DC. (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

When America launched its air campaign against ISIS, CENTCOM Commander Lloyd Austin suggested embedding US advisors — who could also collect intelligence and pinpoint targets — with Iraqi troops. Obama shot the idea down.”

  • WVD

    The writer here forgets easily the documented proof al Qaeda, including at that time ISIS, was the main beneficiary of CIA aid, including arms. Secondly it is a war crime to support an armed uprising in another country as Obama, Turkey and the others have been doing. They are responsible for the destruction of the country. ISIS and the others are just paid plunderers and head choppers doing the dirty work of Erdogan, Netanyahu, Salman, Hollande, Cameron and the others.

    September 28, 2015