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Byrd: A response on Syria

BY MATTHEW BYRD | SEPTEMBER 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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Last week, in a letter to the editor printed in the The Daily Iowan, the UI College Republicans argued that President Obama had “dropped the ball” when it came to his handling of the Bashar Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Closer examination of this letter, however, reveals a flimsy argument that can’t stand up to scrutiny.

The letter starts out with an admission from the College Republicans that they agree with the president’s “overarching policy goals during the Syrian crisis.” Unfortunately, the College Republicans go on to misstate the president’s policy goals when they blast him for not taking military action in order to “stop the massacre in Syria.” The president’s policy, however, has never been to end the conflict; rather, the administration has explicitly stated that its main prerogative is to uphold international norms prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.

The letter goes on to chastise the president for being “bailed out by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.” This quote mischaracterizes the role the Russians have played in the Syrian crisis. Any sort of resolution to the chemical-weapons issue in Syria was going to have to involve Russia, which is the Assad regime’s main weapons importer and ally. And in the end, it was interaction with Russia that led to a breakthrough, as the two sides agreed to force Syria to destroy its chemical-weapons stockpile without the U.S. bombing yet another Middle Eastern country.

The College Republicans also seem to have a limited understanding of how internal U.S. politics work when they argue “Just a few short days ago, Congress could have approved military intervention with bipartisan support. But Obama’s mishandling of international affairs … has since derailed any chance of congressional approval.”

The major problem with this, of course, is that there was very little willingness in Congress to approve a strike, because large majorities of the American public opposed any sort of military intervention in the crisis. That congressional opposition had built up a bipartisan coalition against the strike, with most members of Congress publically opposing military action. Congress was nowhere close to approving a strike; so to suggest the president bungled a sure thing is to ignore the political reality.

The letter’s most ludicrous argument, however, is saved for the very end, when the College Republicans lament that the Untied States’ international credibility has been “destroyed” by the lack of a military strike on Syria.

On the contrary, despite its diplomatic preferences in Syria, the United States still has the world’s largest and most powerful military and continues to be the undisputed economic, political, and cultural superpower. The U.S. has military bases in almost every country on this planet and continues to exert its authority through U.S.-led international organizations such as NATO, the IMF, and the U.N. To suggest that the lack of a minor bombing campaign in a single civil conflict has totally destroyed the credibility of the most powerful country on this planet is simply absurd.

There is definitely room to criticize the administration’s policy on Syria. I did so myself a few weeks ago when I argued that a military strike on the country would be foolish. But in order articulate such a criticism, one must have a basic understanding of the geo-political factors involved, something the College Republicans apparently lack. Because of this, the College Republicans’ argument comes off as a poorly constructed shot at the president that doesn’t engage with the reality of the situation.


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