Syrian war policy will ‘haunt’ Obama, experts say

WASHINGTON (AA) – Experts say consequences of the Syria war will “haunt” President Barack Obama even after he leaves office next year, as he has failed to handle the crisis that has killed more than 360,000 people since 2011.

Obama has been criticized for not following a decisive strategy in Syria since the civil war started.

In 2014, the Obama administration said fighting Daesh was its top priority. Previously, toppling the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was its first priority. Since then, replacing the Syrian leader has been a secondary issue for Obama.

Due to the “inaction” of the U.S. regarding Syria, experts told Anadolu Agency that Russia and Iran — two backers of the Assad regime — have changed the region’s balance of power for the benefit of Assad through military intervention.

With Russian military intervention to Syria in support of the Assad regime, the crisis worsened.

According to a tally compiled by Anadolu Agency, more than 361,000 people have been killed during the conflict.

President of Middle East Studies Center at Denver University, Professor Nadeer Hashimi, said the Obama administration’s approach to the issue was one of the reasons for the loss of thousands of lives.

Hashimi compares Obama’s Syria policy to former President Bill Clinton’s approach in the first years of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina 20 years ago.

During the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995, former Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic conducted an ethnic cleansing against Bosniak Muslims.

Though Clinton changed his approach toward the war when the genocide started, Hashimi said it was already too late for a solution.

He criticizes Obama for following the same approach and adds that in any case, the American president chose the “easy path” by running away from the Syrian war, hoping it “would simply disappear”.

“We can clearly see that, with every month, with every year, the situation in Syria has gotten worse,” Hashimi said.

He stressed that due to the international community’s failure to deal with the crisis in Syria earlier, the world now has to deal with the Daesh problem.

“The ISIS crisis is a direct consequence of the war inside Syria,” he said and stressed that Obama was only “pretending” to seek a solution to Daesh.
He noted that the consequences of the Syrian war would “haunt” Obama even after he leaves office next year.

“In the same way that the conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia haunted the Clinton administration,” Hashimi said.

“Looking back, they could have pursued a different policy. They didn’t and hundreds of thousands people were killed.”

Murhaf Jouejati from the Washington-based think tank, Middle East Institute, said the evidence showed that Obama’s Syria policy was a “total failure,” if his approach could be called as a “policy”.

He stressed that Obama had the opportunity to help topple Assad even before his “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons was violated in 2011.

“Not with American boots on the ground, but by supplying the moderate opposition with the means to do so,” Jouejati noted.

He added that things were easier to handle at that time when there was no Daesh, al-Nusra or Hezbollah on the ground, nor the Iranian and Russian military interventions.

“By doing next to nothing, Obama showed pro-Assad forces, including Russia and Iran, that they can intervene on the side of their ally with impunity,” Jouejati said.

According to Jouejati, in the earlier years of the war, Obama did not have to use force and could either threaten the use of force or alternatively support the moderate Free Syrian Army to end the conflict.

But not everyone considers the U.S. policy in Syria a failure.

Steven Heydemann, a Middle East studies professor at Smith College told Anadolu Agency that staying away from the Syrian crisis was a “conscious policy” of Obama.

Heydemann, who works with “The Day After Project” — an independent transition planning process for Syria after Assad leaves office — stressed that the U.S. approach to the issue could not be called as a “failure”.

“The president is technically correct,” he said, adding that the U.S. has worked to bring about Assad’s removal from power by supporting armed opposition forces.

He stressed that the U.S. could have done more to achieve a “peaceful, preferably negotiated, transition”, but added that it failed to provide the resources needed to achieve its policy aims.

Although a cessation of hostilities agreement was reached in February to halt clashes between sides in Syria, Assad’s forces have continue to attack civilian regions.