An editorial in The New York Times on Monday blasted President Donald Trump for not having a plan for Syria. I don’t know if Trump does or doesn’t have a plan for Syria. What I do know is that Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama did have a plan for Syria – and it is the reason we keep seeing carnage there. What’s worse, The New York Times enthusiastically supported Obama’s plans affecting Syria.

At the very least, having supported policies that have led to such awful destruction, the editors of the Times, should show some humility when criticizing others over Syria. But that would require a degree of self-awareness that the editors of the Times do not possess.

The editorial begins:

A world grown numb to the slaughter of civilians in Syria has been roused in the last 48 hours by photographs on social media of lifeless men, women and children in the rebel-held town of Douma, many with white foam coming from their mouths and nostrils, victims of chemical weapons. Outraged Western nations blame President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and demand retaliation.

Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s callous enablers, have denied that he has once again used these horrific weapons on his own people. But Douma is surrounded by Syrian forces, whom experts have blamed for most of the 85 chemical attacks in the country over the past five years. Syria had a major chemical weapons program before pledging to surrender it after chemical attacks in 2013, a commitment it failed to fully honor.

The editorial then notes that last year Trump bombed a Syria airbase in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack, and declared a few weeks ago that he was ready to withdraw from Syria. Then the editorial states, “But the president should know by now that tough talk without a coherent strategy or follow-through is dangerous.”

Perhaps, but I would argue that having a bad plan, as Obama did, is dangerous and it explains why we are here now.

Note the last sentence of the second paragraph: “Syria had a major chemical weapons program before pledging to surrender it after chemical attacks in 2013, a commitment it failed to fully honor.”

Really? Is there anyone who expected Assad to honor the commitment? Or Russia to ensure that he did?

Enabling Assad

Here’s how a Times editorial described the September 2013 Putin-sponsored deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpile:

The United States-Russian agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is remarkably ambitious and offers a better chance of deterring this threat than the limited military strikes that President Obama was considering.

Even so, the task of cataloging, securing and destroying President Bashar al-Assad’s poison gas cache — which Washington and Moscow have estimated at 1,000 tons — is daunting. It will require vigilance and commitment by the United Nations, with success ultimately dependent on the cooperation of Mr. Assad, whose forces are responsible for most of the 100,000 deaths in the brutal civil war, including what the United States says were more than 1,400 deaths in a chemical attack in August.

The Times applauded the Russian dictator as having “elevated his stature in the Middle East with this diplomatic move,” but cautioned that “he is now on the hook as he never was before to make sure that Mr. Assad does not use chemical weapons.” Really? Did they think Putin would lose sleep if Assad cheated and didn’t surrender all of his weapons? He was never “on the hook.” Putin, with the help of an op-ed that the Times published, only cared about getting  his client, Assad, off the hook.

And of course the Times only had praise for Obama, “for putting a focus on upholding an international ban on chemical weapons and for setting aside military action at this time in favor of a diplomatic deal.”

In other words, the Times effectively praised Obama for sacrificing the only leverage he had against a bloodthirsty thug like Assad, and trusting the niceties of diplomacy to restrain the mass-murderer. Well as Saturday’s chemical attack showed, the deal did not uphold the international ban because Assad still possesses chemical weapons.

Of course, we didn’t get to this level of carnage simply due to a porous deal to take chemical weapons out of the hands of Assad. We also got it by another act of diplomacy that strengthened one of Assad’s principal patrons, Iran. And again, we can see how the Times cheered on this destructive policy.

Enabling Assad Enabler, Iran

In an editorial taken (I think) from Obama’s rhetoric, the Times praised An Iran Nuclear Deal That Reduces the Chance of War. Now if you’re Syrian, or are aware of what’s gone in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon since July 2015, you know that the deal by releasing billions of dollars to Iran, intensified wars already going on.

But the Times saw no bad in this deal either.

As described by Mr. Obama and other officials, the deal seems sound and clearly in the interest of the United States, the other nations that drafted it and the state of Israel. In return for a phased lifting of international economic sanctions, Iran will reduce by 98 percent its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which can be processed further into bomb-grade fuel, and reduce the number of operating centrifuges used to enrich that fuel by two-thirds, to 5,060. These limits mean that if Iran ever decides to violate the agreement and make a dash for a nuclear bomb, it will take a year to produce the weapons-grade fuel needed for a single bomb, compared with a couple of months now.

Many of the various restrictions in the agreement will be in force for 10 to 25 years. Some, notably Iran’s agreement to constant and technologically advanced monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, will last indefinitely, as will its commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to never produce a nuclear weapon. Inspectors will have access to suspicious sites “where necessary, when necessary,” President Obama said, and if Iran cheats, that will be detected early enough to respond, including by quickly reimposing sanctions or taking military action.

“As described by Mr. Obama and other officials?” Again. Really? Did the editors of the Times take a look at the deal (like I did), or did they just take the word of Obama administration officials, who were the very definition of self-interested?

The deal as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted at the time, and as the Mossad chief recently confirmed, is not in Israel’s interests and for the Times to presume to know what is better for Israel than Israel does, is the height of arrogance. Frankly it wasn’t in the interests of the United States or the blind European countries who agreed to it either. (It’s important to remember the deal was never signed. Iran didn’t want to. I don’t know if Obama insisted on a pinkie swear to ensure that they really meant it or not.)

But we already know that if there are suspicious military sites, Iran will not allow IAEA inspectors there. In other words, like the Syria chemical weapons deal, the Iran nuclear deal is hopelessly porous.

It is deeply unsettling that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel derisively dismissed the deal immediately as a “historic mistake.” He, Republicans in Congress and most candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have opposed negotiations with Iran from the outset yet offered no credible alternative to a negotiated settlement. The Republican presidential hopefuls repeated that formula today — condemnation of the deal with no credible alternative to offer.

I love this criticism of Netanyahu and Republicans “condemnation of the deal with no credible alternative to offer,” but earlier the editorial stated, “The deal, the product of 20 arduous months of negotiations, would obviously have provided more cause for celebration if Iran had agreed to completely dismantle all of its nuclear facilities. But the chances of that happening were effectively zero…”

There was a credible alternative, but Obama, and his cheerleaders at the Times allowed Iran to veto it. But it isn’t just that the deal allowed Iran to keep a significant portion of its nuclear infrastructure, it was designed to make the reimposition of sanctions more difficult, it erased all past sanctions and United Nations Security Council resolution violations by Iran, and allowed Iran to enrich uranium without having its nuclear program been proven to be for peaceful purposes only, effectively shredding the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (When the Times refers without irony to Iran’s “commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to never produce a nuclear weapon,” it is laughable. Iran’s violation of the NPT has been whitewashed; no reason to assume it feels bound by any aspect of it.)

The nuclear deal effectively gave Iran a get-out-of-jail free card for its past lawbreaking and gave it money and license to increase its aggression across the Middle East.

Iran is Violating the Nuclear Deal

Though it isn’t generally acknowledged (except maybe by Amb. Nikki Haley), according to the UN, Iran is in violation of provisions of UN Security Council resolution 2231, which implements the nuclear deal and prohibits Iran from exporting weapons and specifically, ballistic missiles. A UN Experts Panel found that Iran was violating a Security Council resolution prohibiting the transfer of weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. If Iran is exporting weapons to Yemen it is violating 2231.

Trusting rogues like Assad, and Rouhani/Khamenei was a fool’s game, and Syria (and much of the Middle East) has paid the cost.

Empowering Assad

Getting back to this week’s editorial, the Times of course again takes a potshot at Trump, “With such inconstancy, he will not be able to stop the violence in Syria, and with no clear, unified plan with the Western allies, he will only empower Mr. Assad.”

I don’t know if Trump has a plan or is working on a plan for stopping the bloodletting in Syria. I hope he does or is. But for the Times to charge that if Trump does not act the way it tells him to he will “empower Mr. Assad,” is the height of chutzpah.

I also know that two really bad plans, both of which were cheered on by the Times, have empowered Assad and destroyed Syria.

The Times, cheerleading for Obama hailed the 2013 chemical deal, which eschewed force, allowed Assad to keep some of his illicit weapons and signaled to Assad that he was safe to continue using them.

The nuclear deal with Iran, again praised by the Times, gave Iran the means to ramp up its support of Assad leading to hundreds of thousands of more deaths and millions more refugees.

And the worst part about is that the whole reason that Obama let Assad off the hook was in order to enable the nuclear deal.

This isn’t the opinion of an anti-Obama Republican (me), it’s the opinion of former Obama administration official Frederic Hof, who resigned in disgust. Hof wrote in 2016:

For an American president and his principal subordinates to avert their gazes from mass homicide and from doing anything at all to mitigate or complicate it is far from unprecedented. In this day and age, however, knowing what we know about twentieth century failures to protect civilians thanks to the research and writings of Samantha Power and others, it is stunningly remarkable and regrettable. For a man of Barack Obama’s evident humanity and values, surely there has been something of transcendent importance that has stayed his hand from protecting Syrian civilians; something of paramount national security significance that has stopped him from acting in support of American friends and allies trying desperately to deal with the hemorrhage of humanity from Syria. Thanks to Ben Rhodes and his chronicler we know now what it has been: pursuit of a nuclear agreement with Assad’s premier long-term enabler and partner in mass murder: Iran.

It is now up to Trump to correct the terrible wrongs enabled by Obama. Will he do it? I don’t know. But what I do know, is that an organization that actively encouraged Obama to pursue the policies that have brought such incredible death and destruction to Syria ought to do some introspection before criticizing someone else’s approach to Syria.

[Photo: euronews (in English) / YouTube ]


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