Editor’s note: This analysis is part of Security Clearance blog’s “Debate Preps” series. On November 22, CNN, along with AEI and The Heritage Foundation, will host a Republican candidate debate focused on national security topics. In the run-up to the debate, Security Clearance asked both the sponsoring conservative think tanks to look at the key foreign policy issues and tell us what they want to hear candidates address.
By AEI's Danielle Pletka, Special to CNN
It didn't take much conviction to decide Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had to go after the Egyptian military turned on him. Ditto for Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi, once large portions of the country had freed themselves from his rule and our European allies were clamoring for military intervention. But when the outcome is in doubt, as in Syria, Barack Obama is sitting on the fence.
Consider the stakes: Syria is Iran's most important ally. Under President Bashar al-Assad, Syria remains the patron of Hezbollah, and home to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It was the conduit by which terrorists traveled to Iraq to kill Americans.
But Assad isn't letting go easily. There are few fissures inside his regime. Ambassadors are not resigning, nor are generals defecting. The Arab League and Turkey may chide Assad’s vicious response to his opponents, but they appear unwilling to back their rhetoric with action.
And what of the capital of the free world? Thus far, Washington has done little. Those who would rationalize the President's inaction suggest that there is little for us to do. Better to wait for regional powers to respond, for the United Nations to be decisive, and for things to sort themselves out.
Mr. Obama told us that the prospect of massacres in Libya tugged at his heartstrings, but so far he has been unmoved by the murder of 3000 Syrians.
What does this mean for the future? It does not mean that Mr. Assad will hang on. Increasingly his days appear to be numbered, though the manner of his departure from power and the number of lives it will take are less clear. But much as Russia and China have earned the undying enmity of the Syrian people for shielding the Assad regime from Security Council sanction, so too has the United States been noted as an almost indifferent player. Nice ambassador, bad boss.
As Syria sorts itself over the coming months and years, it would be good to ensure that this pivotal country ends its ties with Iran, and starves Hezbollah and the various other terror groups for which it is the lifeline. But to date, Obama has done nothing to suggest to Syria’s future rulers that the U.S. is a friend who merits a say in their plans.
It would also be good to ensure that U.S. interests and allies in the region are comfortable with the direction a new government in Syria takes.
America benefits from being on the side of right against wrong, unequivocally, leading from the front and not behind. That opportunity is almost lost to us now.
The next president will need to contend with a freer Arab world, a messier Arab world, and in places like Syria, an Arab world that knows that when the chips were down, America was all but absent.
Danielle Pletka is Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and served for ten years as a senior profession staff member on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations