Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Ross Kicks Sand at Obama
How the U.S. Created a Mideast Vacuum - Dennis Ross
Over the course of five years of war within Syria, President Obama looked at Syria and he saw entanglement in another ongoing Middle East conflict where our involvement would be costly, lead to nothing, and potentially make things worse. In nearly every meeting on Syria when presented possible options to affect the Syrian civil war, the president would ask, "tell me where this ends."
But he failed to ask the corollary question: Tell me what happens if we don't act? Had he known that not acting would produce a vacuum in which a humanitarian catastrophe, a terrible refugee crisis, a deepening proxy war and the rise of ISIL in Iraq and Syria would occur, his responses might have been different.
When he looked at Syria, he saw Iraq. In his eyes, Iraq was a colossal mistake. He had run against it. He had been elected to get us out of Middle East wars, not into them. But was Syria really Iraq? Syria was not an American invasion of a country but an internal uprising against an authoritarian leader.
A vacuum was created by our hesitancy to do more than offer pronouncements. And that vacuum was filled by others: Iran, Hizbullah and Iran's other Shia militia proxies; Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar; Russia; and ISIL.
We should not overlearn the lessons of the Iraq war and misapply them. Not every conflict in the Middle East is a replay of Iraq - and our choices for responding to them should not be reduced to doing nothing or putting massive numbers of troops on the ground.
Amb. Dennis Ross, a counselor at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served two years as special assistant to President Obama and National Security Council senior director for the Central Region, and a year as special advisor to Secretary of State Clinton.