President Obama Must Finally Stand Up and Lead on Syria
(Editor’s note: This article was written before President Obama’s prime time address on the topic of Syria on Tuesday night.)
I don’t know what President Obama will say in his speech tonight, but I do know this. U.S. policy on Syria is muddled, weak, and increasingly bizarre.
From the outset of the Syrian civil war, when Bashar Assad turned on his people and started murdering them in their tens of thousands, President Obama should have gone to the UN and announced that the United States will seek an indictment against President Assad as a war criminal, guilty of crimes against humanity. Instead, we had two years of atrocities with very little American condemnation. Finally, when Assad gassed his people, including 400 children, President Obama showed courage and fortitude in demanding that Assad be held accountable for this abomination. I was inspired by his seemingly unshakable determination to hold this killer accountable for his crimes.
But it’s been downhill ever since.
Rather than striking at Assad’s air force and air fields – not to mention his presidential palaces – so that the slaughter could be minimized and Assad personally punished, President Obama announced that he is going to Congress for approval. Was there really time for that? Wasn’t there a danger that Assad would gas his people further, or even just continue to slaughter them with more conventional weapons?
What this delay has allowed is this:
1. Assad to go on TV with Charlie Rose – who by the way conducted a pointed and impressive interview – and come across as calm, measured, and reasonable, thereby further undermining the urgency of an attack and sowing more doubts in the minds of the public as to whether this monster deserved to be hit.
2. Russia meddling in the process and offering to broker a deal whereby Assad submits his chemical arsenal to international control. Really? How will we know we’ve found them all? How long will it take? Does Assad get to keep on killing people while this process drags on for months? And since Russia has vetoed every Security Council measure intended to hold Assad accountable, are their motives to stop the chemical attacks or protect their murderous proxy?
3. The United States to come across as weak and befuddled in the face of clear violations of every humane law of civility. If the world’s most powerful nation can’t make up its mind to strike back – in however limited a capacity – against a mass murderer of children, then what hope is there for the words “Never Again” to actually have any teeth?
4. Assad to get off nearly scott free. Let’s say that President Obama agrees to this deal and Russia and the UN become responsible for overseeing the control or regulation of Syria’s chemical arsenal (which by itself almost sounds farcical). Does that mean that Assad is not punished for gassing children? Hmmm… So if a man shoots up a school here in the US, but agrees to have law enforcement confiscate all his weapons, is he then not punished?
Syria was President Obama’s moment to prove once and for all that he is serious about human rights and the infinite value of human life. He did an admirable job helping to get rid of the butcher in Libya, Gaddafi. He was outstanding in taking the decision – without any Congressional approval – to strike deep in the heart of Pakistan against Osama bin Laden.
How sad that President Obama is so muddying his legacy by showing irresolution in the face of so clear a moral imperative.
Mr. President. Stop dithering. Children are dying. Stand up and lead.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books and will shortly publish “Kosher Lust”. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.