The following article was written before the US strike on Syria on Friday.
Those who wrote in September 2013 that US President Barack Obama’s conduct on the Syrian issue was amateurish, hasty and dangerous received a defying nod. The United State and Russia are finally cooperating on something, said the people who believed in that agreement. Why ruin it with gloomy prophecies?
Those were not gloomy prophecies, however. The agreement that Russian President Vladimir Putin presented to Obama did not include a binding decision of the Security Council under Chapter VII of the United Nations Chapter, which permits the use of force against Syrian President Bashar Assad if he violated his commitments.
It was also clear that the agreement provided Assad with an insurance policy against an overthrow. It was clear then, as it is clear now, that Assad and the Assad family are the fundamental problem of the Syrian war, and that without their defeat the battle would only escalate.
All those things are still true, but now we are 400,000 deaths into the battle, with a refugee crisis and the rise to power of a leader, one Donald Trump, who used the images of Syrian refugees in his campaign ads.
And now, there has been another atrocity. There is no difference between a child murdered by a bullet in the head and a child poisoned by gas, who is seen in the pictures quivering, trying to draw one last breath of air into lungs that had stopped functioning. Both children were murdered, and they were murdered with complete malice.
Assad is responsible for at least 70 percent of the civilian victims in the civil war. In the past few months, his great ally Russia has been killing more people in Syria than ISIS. Assad and Putin are demonstrating to the world the power of unrestrained, brutal and goal-fixated force. The international bodies were supposed to block and disrupt the use of such force, but they are paralyzed. They are paralyzed because of the basic structure which gives Russia the power to veto and they are paralyzed because of American indetermination.
Trump’s White House blamed the Obama administration for the situation in Syria, which is not an unfounded accusation of course, but blaming your predecessor is witchcraft with an expiration date. On Tuesday, Trump made an appearance several hours after hundreds of civilians were gassed in Syria. In fact, he made two public appearances. He was busy thanking scaffolding erectors and air conditioning installers and making it clear that “America First” was the administration’s guideline.
In other words, Obama chose to isolate America from the crisis in Syria, and reaped a whirlwind. Trump wants to isolate America from the entire world and its crises, including Syria. Obama despised Putin, but thought—making a horrible mistake—he would be able to sign an agreement with him on Syria. Trump admires Putin and is not pressing him to sign an agreement at this stage. There is no need for that. After all, as new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” Republican Senator John McCain was so shocked by the Putinist change in his party’s direction that he blasted the comment as “a disgraceful chapter in American history.”
In order to resolve the crisis, the world needs an effective global watchdog, and there is only one such person—in Washington. Unfortunately, for the time being, he is refusing to assume that role. Let’s hope that changes.
Nadav Eyal is Channel 10's chief international correspondent.
(Translated and edited by Sandy Livak-Furmanski)