More than likely, the phrases “President Barack Obama” and “foreign policy guru” may not sit well with most people after the Syrian chemical weapons negotiations debacle. There is, however, a light at the end of that foreign-policy-crisis tunnel.
When Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008, the U.S.’s role in the international scene was messy: we were involved in two wars, isolated from everyone but our strongest European ally the United Kingdom and fighting strong rhetoric regarding the dominance of China in the international scene. Since then, Syria seems to be on the road to reconciliation in the international community, largely through timely nudging from Obama and his staff.
Whether or not you believe that all countries in the world have an obligation to uphold human rights, the images coming out of Syria are sickening. These images, as well as President Obama’s now-infamous “red line” statement on chemical weapons, put the United States and its foreign policy in a precarious position.
As you may have noticed, however, we are not in the process of bombing Bashar Al-Assad or his many military installations; in fact, Assad has agreed to turn his chemical weapons over to the United Nations for eventual destruction.
Obama deserves much of the credit for avoiding war with Russia over Syria. The only time that Obama threatened military action was in the face of an egregious violation of a precedent. This threat was an attempt to be consistent and to apply pressure at a key moment. Further, in a self-imposed limitation of his executive authority, he asked Congress to be the body that formally approved the strike. Obama is doing everything in his power to avoid conflict and encourage negotiation.
His pragmatism in regards to the Syrian situation also extends to the trust he was able to put in Secretary of State John Kerry, top Russian diplomats and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama left it up to those who have a legitimate working relationship with the Syrian government to negotiate. He did not rely solely on the bully tactics of a strike against Assad. While the threat of a strike put the pressure on Assad to negotiate, the intimidations were not unwarranted, random or unevenly repercussive.
Obama allowed Putin to take “the win” of Syrian negotiations and conciliations because having a de-weaponized Syria is more important than the U.S.’s international prestige. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Obama even said that when it comes to Syria, he is “less concerned with style points” than with the continuing chemical weapons violations. The Obama administration’s combination of strengths and smarts may seem sloppy and disorganized in the moment, but will, retrospectively, be seen favorably for keeping the U.S. out of another war in the Middle East.