Two Opposing Approaches to Syria
by Hari Patel on Monday, September 30th, 2013
Over the course of the summer, Obama seemed to be losing power, influence, and debates of national importance. On issue after issue, from Snowden to immigration to the economy, either the Obama communications team failed to shift public opinion in their favor, or personnel in the West Wing looked ineffective at best. Nowhere did this struggle make itself evident more than in the Syrian conflict.
Upon the discovery that the Syrian government had used sarin gas on its own citizens, shock erupted through the news. For days, Republicans filled up the talk-show echo chamber, criticizing Obama’s weakness and his lackluster confidence when it came to enforcing his “red line” of chemical weaponry. Right-wing pundits lambasted his letting Congress decide on taking military action, claiming that the world would see the United States as weakened. Yet the Obama team has justifiable reasons to avoid intervening in the Syrian conflict: the opposition has strong links with al-Qaeda, the bloody civil war is not of direct threat to national security, and the sectarian ethnic cleansing that may come as a result of one side winning this battle could make Kosovo look like the Fourth of July.
However, the Obama administration spoke of a flawed symbolic “red line” when they clearly did not want to have to follow through with repercussions. When the administration got its act together and came up with a plan for a limited strike, they had a great idea: send a bill of authorization into Congress to contrast the reckless actions of the Bush administration and demonstrate that the United States approaches military action as one nation. Even after a miraculous and well-structured agreement was signed with the Russians and Syrians, the following Sunday’s meeting with the press was filled with anti-Obama talking points. One could suggest that Senator Kerry’s increasingly less belligerent approach has damaged Obama’s reputation, but it’s clear that the President has gotten less credit than he deserves for a greatly important, but poorly publicized chemical weapons agreement.
By Constantine Velmahos ’15
On September 11, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin published an op-ed in The New York Times, speaking directly to the American people. Mr. Putin pleads for the U.S. to avoid military action in Syria, fearing that innocent lives and global peace would be lost. He argues that international diplomacy and direct negotiations with the Syrian regime would make a superior substitute to brute military intervention. His supposedly open-minded approach seemed surprisingly noble, attempting to head off the U.S.’ interference with the civil war in Syria.
Of course, Putin has a vested interest in keeping the United States out of Syria due to political and economic ties, but one of his primary goals is a peaceful Syria. Its civil war has been raging for nearly two years now, the 50-year dictatorial regime fighting rebels who may be aided by al-Qaeda. While these two parties fight for control over a war-ravaged country, the civilians of Syria are both caught in the crossfire and face the threat of chemical weapons.
And these civilians are locked in yet another battle. Russia and the United States are arguing on the issue of taking action in Syria and removing their chemical weapons by force. In saying that the regime crossed a global “red line” with the use of chemical weapons, President Obama urged Congress to approve a preemptive strike into Syria, but any American strike would undoubtedly have far-reaching implications. Meanwhile, Putin asked the United Nations to take caution and consider the effects of such an attack, begging for all innocents to be considered and saved from such devastation.
However, Putin’s claims for peace are probably not driven solely by the safety of these innocent citizens. The Syrian regime happens to be Russia’s last remaining ally in the Middle East, as well as the only one that still approves Russia to exit into the ocean. The downfall of the Syrian regime would mean a noticeable decline in Russian trade, so clearly, Putin is not budging from Assad’s side. Nevertheless, one of Putin’s goals is peace in the Middle Eastern region, and he and his country strongly support the disarmament of the Syrians, rather than more fighting; on this point, he differs vastly from Obama, who half-heartedly supported embroiling his country in another war which most Americans oppose. Putin came out with his image interact, even enhanced, by the controversy.
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