With President Barack Obama ordering his national security team to prepare a declassified report for public release, it appears that the prospect of a military strike by the United States on Syria is imminent.
Yet, while developments in the Middle East are forcing the Commander in Chief to act decisively and with all due haste, every major poll taken about the public’s attitude towards another foreign conflict reveals a sobering trend: Americans don’t want to engage.
As such, a President who has long based his foreign policy on how it will play at home may be tempted to intervene in Syria’s growing humanitarian crisis by way of swift, dynamic action that is utterly lacking in continuity or consistency.
While Obama is inching towards a response to the Syrian use of chemical weapons, there is much he can learn from another country that has acted on its own red line with regards to the rogue regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad: Israel.
Israel has declared openly that it will prevent new arms from being transferred from Syria to the Hezbollah terrorist group, based in Lebanon. Without openly admitting it, Jerusalem has acted to enforce this threshold.
Israel’s own Syria policy should hearten the overwhelming majority of Americans who recoil at the idea of another foreign entanglement. Israel has proven that it’s possible to prevent game-changing sophisticated weapons, including long range missiles, flowing from Syria to the Hezbollah without the need to put boots on the ground. Furthermore, Israel’s targeted military strikes have been conducted without the country being dragged into Syria’s civil war.
Beyond the lessons that the U.S. administration can learn from Israel with regards to viable military options, the U.S. President needs to demonstrate the intestinal fortitude required to make a complete, sudden change in principle and attitude. Indeed, Obama’s realpolitik outlook views unrest as more dangerous than injustice and a functioning balance of power as more important than human rights.
And with Obama’s value-free foreign policy being nurtured and perpetuated by an inner circle of advisers who constantly talk about how it will be virtually impossible for the United States to achieve any desirable goal in Syria, how wouldn’t this have an effect on the public’s attitude?
In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has damned the torpedoes, continuing with the planned course of action despite a calculated risk that Syria, Hezbollah or Iran will retaliate for its air raids.
It should be noted that to date, the response of Israel’s and the United States’ common enemies to Israel’s repeated bombing of Syria has been muted.
For now, the focus of the Middle East’s menagerie of tyrants has shifted from Jerusalem to Washington. They are watching to see if Obama’s desire to reduce the U.S. influence in world affairs will continue to guide his administration’s approach to Syria.
After nearly five years in office as the President of the United States, however, it is becoming painfully clear that there’s a steep bill attached to such a retreat from the world stage. The power vacuum left by a president who has concluded the Middle East is beyond American national interests has empowered the very reactionaries that the administration of George W. Bush spent several years unraveling.
Barack Obama now has the opportunity to shift course. To do so, he will first have to acknowledge that the United States cannot trade its own unilateral power for the empowerment of new forms of collaboration and global governance. International institutions, alliances, and balances of power have important uses, but none are by themselves a sufficient substitute for America’s unique role.
By acting boldly in Syria, Barack Obama will have taken the first step away from a policy of disengagement that has created a serious weakening in the current world order as well as a plethora of new threats to the national security of the United States.
Whether or not America is in decline is a subject of much debate. However, the manner in which the United States decides to define its role in international affairs is not a matter of large historical forces beyond America’s control, but a question of Barack Obama’s choices, policies, and resolve.