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Syria: What Have We Learned?

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
September 13, 2013
Daily Beast

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The Obama administration violated the fundamental rule incessantly invoked by my Hungarian immigrant Jewish mother: "When you don't know what you're doing, don't mix in."

Well, President Obama "mixed in" in Syria two years ago without the semblance of a coherent strategy. It's a sorry record. Mr. Obama's reputation and clout have suffered. All should be grateful, however, that he's not committed the ultimate sin of giving a bunch of unknown rebels massive military aid, establishing complicated no-fly zones, and putting American boots on the ground. He's committed costly diplomatic gaffes, not military ones. Here's the record:

When the Syrian civil war erupted more than two years ago, Obama said his central goal was the removal of Syrian dictator and President Bashar al-Assad. Alas, there was one small problem. He took no military action—aid to rebels or U.S. air attacks—that might cause Assad to fall. Not even remotely close.

Then our president announced that he wanted a political settlement. One problem here, too. He couldn't get a political resolution without negotiating with Assad—and he wouldn't negotiate with Assad. (In recent weeks the Obama team has not repeated its insistence on Assad's departure, but that just might be inadvertent. Or maybe not.)

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