Two years ago tomorrow, President Barack Obama delivered a rare address to the American people in prime time. It had been over one year since he had drawn his “red line” for action in Syria, and the last month of headlines were dominated by the news that it was being flagrantly and systematically violated. Chemical weapons were being deliberately dropped on civilians and rebel targets in Syria; the horrible images that emerged from that scene of death and the terrible precedent that was being set finally compelled Obama to action. His administration spent the preceding weeks feebly drumming up support both at home and abroad for intervention, but it was clear that there was no appetite for another war – even one as noble as that which Bashar al-Assad invited. Rather than make the case for American leadership that night, President Barack Obama took an off-ramp. He opted for a way out of his obligation to enforce international norms and his own self-imposed imperatives. It was a shortsighted approach to a crisis, and only serviced Obama’s own narrow, parochial political interests. Today, the fruits of that ill-conceived policy are more grave than anyone could have imagined. 

On the night of September 10, 2013, President Obama spent the majority of his address to the American public making a prosecutorial case in favor of the need for intervention against Assad’s criminal regime. Then, veering bizarrely off course, the president informed the nation that Moscow had generously provided him with a way to avoid making good on this commitment to American military action.

“In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons,” the president insisted. “It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.”

It was a fateful decision. Vladimir Putin’s interest in preserving his client in Damascus, and Russia’s access to its last post-Soviet port on the Mediterranean at Tartus, was entirely strategic. Assad never fully surrendered his chemical weapons stockpile, as United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power confessed last October. The Syrian civil war raged on and spawning the creation of the Islamic State, which would spill over the border into Iraq and spread across the region only a handful of months later.

The deference provided Assad gave him the confidence to continue to deploy both undeclared and permitted chemical arms against civilians. The leeway afforded Moscow provided Putin with assurance that he could assert his country’s interests in Ukraine after the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych, invade an annex the Crimean Peninsula, and to destabilize the eastern portions of that country with an army of pro-Russian rebels. The indifference toward a spiraling regional conflict sowed the seeds of the worst refugee crisis since World War II in Europe. It is a crisis that will eventually inspire a political backlash that could yield the rise of anti-Atlanticists in positions of power in Europe and directly threaten American national security.

Much ink has been wasted over the course of this presidency attempting to identify (or to invent) something that could be reasonably considered an Obama doctrine. To that end, nothing is so compelling as the realization that the Obama doctrine is whatever the path of least political resistance is at the moment. The ill-conceived nature of this approach has been evident this week, as Moscow has flagrantly exacerbated tensions in Syria by fielding an expeditionary force into the region aimed at preserving the Assad regime. What’s more, it is doing so alongside agents loyal to the Islamic Republic of Iran even while this White House is touting a new era of détente with Tehran.

“Russian military officers are now in Damascus and meeting regularly with Iranian and Syrian counterparts, according to a source with close contacts in the Bashar al-Assad regime,” The Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss revealed late last week. Russia is reportedly utilizing Iranian airspace to introduce troops into the Syrian theater after Bulgaria closed its airspace to Moscow’s military aircraft.

Moscow is not being coy about their involvement in Syria. Russians have been seen in uniform. Some Russian soldiers are taking photographs of themselves in theater and are posting those images onto online forums. Vladimir Putin is proudly propping up a criminal regime that is terrorizing his country and creating the conditions that destabilize Europe and NATO.

This is not merely the Russian advisory presence that has reportedly been in Syria for years. Reuters reported on Wednesday that uniformed Russian forces are directly participating in military operations in Syria in support of the Assad regime. “Two U.S. officials said Russia has sent two tank landing ships and additional aircraft to Syria in the past day or so and has deployed a small number of naval infantry forces,” Reuters reported.

Russian forces are now virtually serving alongside Iran-funded Hezbollah terrorists in support of the genocidal Assad regime. The members of this rogues’ gallery have, at one point or another, been this administration’s allies of convenience. That is, when the circumstances led Barack Obama to abandon American grand strategy in pursuit of the moment’s most politically expedient course of action.

The American public’s desire to move on from what they perceived as George W. Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” was so potent by 2007 that even the most permissive of Democrats would have seemed a refreshing change. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous,” Barack Obama famously quipped during a 2007 Democratic debate. Thus, a policy was born. Robust and muscular diplomacy backed by the threat of military force has since made a comeback, but too late to prevent some of the world’s worst actors from filling the void left by a retreating and indifferent United States.

The fruits of Obama’s ill-conceived policy of rapprochement toward antagonistic and irresponsible governments are on proud display in Syria. There, America’s adversaries collude openly and in defiance of the West. Obama’s is not a failed strategic approach to safeguarding American interests; it is no strategy at all.

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