When the history of the Obama administration is written, there will be a long and damaging chapter on its immense humanitarian and strategic failure in Syria. With three years of Obama yet to come, we have not even seen the full humanitarian disaster play out—nor have we yet confronted the dangers that are arising there from the vast jihadist presence.
There are hard choices to be made when strategic and humanitarian interests diverge or even conflict. In Syria, they combined: The United States had an obvious interest in seeing the Assad regime replaced, and two and a half years ago Obama said Assad must go. After all, this was an enemy regime, tied to Iran and Hezbollah and brutal in its repression of all dissent, and it had a good deal of American blood on its hands because it had facilitated the travel of jihadists to Iraq to kill Americans in the previous decade. Assad's departure would be a grave setback to Iran and Hezbollah and a great boon to the people of Syria, who would have a chance to establish a decent government. The population is 74 percent Sunni, so Assad as an Alawite was always going to have to rule by the gun; a Sunni-led government might be able to rely on the ballot box or at least on a less repressive system.