INTO THE FRAY: Syria-Reaping the storm Obama sowed

By Martin Sherman, IISS 

If surrendering US primacy in the region to Russia was the result of US passivity and inaction, the intrusion of Iran into Syria can very definitely be attributed to ill-conceived, active American policy. 

So rather than offer false promises…we have to take a long view of the terrorist threat, and we have to pursue a smart strategy that can be sustained…we have to draw upon the strength of our diplomacy…Just think about what we’ve done these last eight years without firing a shot…We’ve eliminated Syria’s declared chemical weapons program. – Barack Obama, Address on Counterterrorism, December 6, 2016. 

With respect to Syria, we struck a deal where we got 100% of the chemical weapons out… – John Kerry, Obama’s Secretary of State, Meet the Press, July 20, 2014.

“We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. Our aim…was…to deal with the threat of chemical weapons by virtue of the diplomacy …We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Advisor, NPR , January 16, 2017.

The past years have been ones of great trauma and tragedy in Syria.

Sadly, ongoing trends may well herald trauma and tragedy on even a greater scale – not only for Syria itself, but for the entire region, and well beyond.

On the cusp of catastrophic conflict

Indeed, barely five years ago, few analysts—if any—would have predicted that the world would be poised on the brink of a militarized confrontation between the US and Israel on the one hand, and Russia, Iran, Syria and possibly Turkey (perversely and paradoxically a NATO member), on the other.

Yet these are precisely the emerging contours of the conflict on whose cusp we are now perched.

Much of the blame for the unfolding drama of human misery must be laid squarely and unequivocally on Barack Obama—and his disastrous policy decisions.

The source of virtually every vector of bestial brutality that has converged on Syria in the last half-decade—and which now threaten to diverge from it and engulf others, both near and far—can be traced back to the previous administration’s foreign policy preferences.

Indeed, a straight line can be drawn from the flaccidity of the Obama positions on US military presence in Iraq and his disdainful dismissal of the threat posed by ISIS; his disregard for his own “red lines” in Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, coupled with his surrender of US influence to Russia; and of course, his capitulation to the tyrannical theocrats in Tehran on Iran’s nuclear program.

After all, the substantive content of these policies were so patently divergent from their declared purpose, it is difficult to reconcile their adoption with genuine good faith—unless one assumes almost child-like naiveté or staggering ignorance, neither of which are reassuring qualities for a leader of the world’s most powerful nation.

Obama: The most Islamophilic president ever

Significantly, the consequences of Obama’s “legacy’ have been so unambiguously calamitous that even the once sycophantic Obama-phile, Jeffrey Goldberg, penned an article (The Atlantic, April 7, 2017), disapprovingly headlined: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. With uncharacteristic acerbity for someone once so unreservedly supportive of the former president, Goldberg admits: “The 2013 Obama-Putin deal to disarm Assad of his chemical weapons was a failure… The argument that Obama achieved comprehensive WMD disarmament without going to war is no longer, as they say in Washington, operative.”

However, I hesitate to deem these decisions “errors of judgement”, for the really disturbing thing about Obama’s foreign policy is that it is difficult to know whether the appalling outcomes they produced were the result of well-intentioned, but unintended, blunders—or of malevolent and deliberate intent.

For whatever one might believe regarding Barack Obama’s genuine religious affiliation, one thing is beyond any honest dispute: He is without doubt the most Islamophilic president to ever to hold office, unabashedly unmoored to the bollards of the Judeo-Christian legacy that has underpinned—indeed, shaped—the character of the United States since its inception. This undoubtedly colored his view of America’s national interests and the appropriate manner in which they ought to be pursued, in hues very different from any other White House incumbent.

“…Muslims built our tallest building” 

Thus, in his seminal outreach address in Cairo (June 2009) to the Muslim world, which in many ways laid the corner-stone for the subsequent orientation of his administration’s foreign policy, Obama, with scant historical corroboration to back himself up, declared: “I…know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story”—adding somewhat incongruously “…Muslims have enriched the United States …They have [among other things] built our tallest building”…just a few years after Muslims knocked down two of America’s tallest buildings. No kidding!

He then proceeded to draw a highly questionable equivalence between the ethos of the US and that of Islam: “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

Just how ludicrous his alleged parallel is, is something I have dealt with elsewhere –see Will the West Withstand the Obama Presidency?, and will thus forego any further elaboration here. However, it would be imprudent to ignore how this clearly articulated perspective impacted his policy-making.

Few have expressed what effect this overtly professed proclivity in Obama’s political credo (conveyed in his 2009 Cairo address) had on his administration’s ensuing foreign policy more succinctly than former Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren.

From Cairo 2009 to Syria 2018

In a 2015 “Foreign Policy” essay, Oren excoriates Obama’s naiveté as peacemaker, blinders to terrorism, and alienation of allies.”

Referring to Obama’s Cairo speech and other similar remarks made at the start of his incumbency, Oren observes: “These pronouncements presaged what was, in fact, a profound recasting of U.S. policy.”

He recounts that whenever leaders “ were perplexed by the administration’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Syria — severed by Bush after the assassination of Lebanese president Rafik Hariri — or its early outreach to Libya and Iran, I would always refer them to that text. When policymakers back home failed to understand why Obama stood by Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who imprisoned journalists and backed Islamic radicals, or Mohamed Morsi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and briefly its president, I would invariably say: ‘Go back to the speech.’ ”

In the essay, written barely a month before the July 2015 deal struck with Iran, Oren berates Obama’s “unique approach to Islam”, and his “assumption that a nuclear deal with Iran will render it ‘a very successful regional power’ capable of healing, rather than inflaming, historic schisms”, adding dryly: “That assumption was scarcely shared by Sunni Muslims, many of whom watched with deep concern at what they perceived as an emerging U.S.-Iranian alliance.

“The Terrible Cost of Obama’s Failure in Syria”
The utter failure of the Obama doctrine can no longer be papered over. Its calamitous consequences are now beginning to be openly acknowledged in the mainstream media.
Thus, earlier this month, a withering review of what Obama has helped wreak in Syria appeared in “The Atlantic”—where the once obsequious Goldberg is Editor-in-Chief—under the caustic title “The Terrible Cost of Obama’s Failure in Syria”, detailing the atrocities inflicted on the civilian population since the administration’s glowing predictions thatwe struck a deal where we got 100% of the chemical weapons out”.

But as tragic as the wholesale slaughter of civilians by Assad—once considered a “reformer”—are, there are many other grave, more strategic ramifications of the now widely discredited Obama doctrine.

The failure to assess the true nature of the threat ISIS posed in Iraq allowed the civil war there to spill over into Syria, compounding the carnage there. The uncontrolled escalation of fighting—and the absence of any US initiative to reign in Assad’s brutality—led to massive flows of refugees fleeing into Turkey and from there, into Europe—precipitating massive socio-cultural tensions across the continent, and threatening to undermine much of the domestic societal fabric.

Moreover, much like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. So when US reticence created a power vacuum in Syria, it was Putin and the Ayatollahs who were only too eager to fill it.

Freeing the Iranian tyranny from its bonds 

But if surrendering US primacy in the region to Russia was the result of US passivity and inaction, the intrusion of Iran into Syria and the establishment of an ominous military presence there, together with the threat of a Shi’ite land bridge, linking Iran to the Mediterranean Coast, can very definitely be attributed to ill-conceived, active American policy.

After all, the current Iranian brazenness in Syria (and other portions of the region) would be inconceivable without the 2015 nuclear deal, ushered in by the Obama administration. Indeed, it is difficult to envisage the Iranian regime, prior to the deal, crippled by sanctions and deprived of assets, being able to orchestrate its current provocative mischief. The Obama orchestrated deal freed it from these inhibiting constraints and allowed it to pursue its global agenda of terror and aggression.

For in reality, there were only two ways to effectively restrain Tehran, force it to dismantle and discard its nuclear program, and to curtail its promotion of international terror.

In the short run, this involved maintaining—even tightening—the sanctions, which brought it to the negotiating table in the first place, backed up by a credible threat of military action against Iranian infrastructure—its dams, bridges, power plants and its tele-communication installations—in the case of continued defiance.

In the longer run, Iranian compliance with acceptable international norms can only be assured by regime-change—and replacement of the current tyrannical theocracy by rulers not driven the will to impose its fanatical brand of Islam across the globe.

Tyranny empowered, enriched & entrenched

Sadly, Obama obviated both these possibilities.

By unequivocally taking the military option off the table and relinquishing his pledge that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, he left Tehran secure in the knowledge that if the West backed away from the use of force against a weak, impoverished, non-nuclear Iran, there was little chance of it being adopted later, against a stronger, richer nuclear Iran.

Secondly, by abolishing the sanctions and freeing billions of Iranian assets, Obama empowered the current regime militarily, enriched it economically, and entrenched it politically. Thus, he inevitably made any chance of regime-change commensurately more remote.

Accordingly, without any real threat to its grip on power, the ruling tyranny was left unencumbered to pursue its malevolent designs in Syria; and together with the Russians, prop up their puppet, Assad, while developing a military presence to threaten Israel, and enhance its hegemonic aspirations across the Mid-East and beyond.

This is clearly a situation which Israel cannot tolerate, bringing the potential for large-scale militarized confrontation perilously close.

The bitter fruits of appeasement

The last great global conflict was the result of appeasement—and the attempt to assuage tyranny by concessions. In the aftermath of the Obama era, we are left to hope that yet another ill-advised attempt to appease tyranny will not precipitate yet another human catastrophe.


April 13, 2018 | 9 Comments » | 2,161 views

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9 Comments / 9 Comments

  1. “Rein in” not R-E-I-G-N in. I stopped reading there and will continue later. I just cannot understand why highly literate people will consistently use the wrong words, when they know the correct ones. Yes, I’m being picky, I just feel like it at the moment. It will pass.

  2. The failure to assess the true nature of the threat ISIS posed in Iraq allowed the civil war there to spill over into Syria, compounding the carnage there. The uncontrolled escalation of fighting—and the absence of any US initiative to reign in Assad’s brutality—led to massive flows of refugees fleeing into Turkey and from there, into Europe—precipitating massive socio-cultural tensions across the continent, and threatening to undermine much of the domestic societal fabric.

    A terrible disappointment this article by Martin Sherman.

    This is the key paragraph in the Sherman article…

    The failure to assess the true nature of the threat ISIS posed in Iraq allowed the civil war there to spill over into Syria, compounding the carnage there. The uncontrolled escalation of fighting—and the absence of any US initiative to reign in Assad’s brutality—led to massive flows of refugees fleeing into Turkey and from there, into Europe—precipitating massive socio-cultural tensions across the continent, and threatening to undermine much of the domestic societal fabric.

    This article by Sherman is totally disingenuous and absolutely dishonest. He writes good things about the nature of the two state solution but here we separate completely.

    (We do not know how the US assessed ISIS. How far did the CIA create ISIS on the ground since big sections of the Establishment in EVERY country is lined up with Islam is a qiestion at least for discussion. But what is certain is that there are those who DID assess ISIS correctly, Assad for one, just as did his Father, just as did Nasser in his “dealings” with Qutb since after many cups of tea in Cairo Nasser had the fanatic hung)

    To talk about ISIS and how ISIS arose ask the question first who founded ISIS. The first answer is that Islam did. ISIS comes straight out of Islam. This is important to grasp, and repeat, because the same question has to be asked about the “Palestinians”…who founded the “Palestinians”? and again it is out of the top drawer of Islam.


    The Alawites, the Christians, the Yazedis, the Berbers, the Jews, and many other minorities have had to find a way to live under the yoke of Islam.

    You will note in the above paragraph that Sherman slips effortlessly into talking about how brutal was Assad. That leaves to one side the question how do you fight Islam without brutality. How does Israel fight Islam without brutality? Is it possible anywhere or at any time?

    That in itself is a very disturbing feature of this article by Sherman. it is not logicala nd it is not honest.

    The other noticeable thing about this article by Sherman is how he shifts into total support for the narrative on poison gas use by Assad held by all the actors (who actually are the collective enemy of Israel) like May, Johnson, Pompey, Bruton and with force in the last couple of weeks by deceptive and turncoat on the issue Trump.

    Why is Sherman lending himself to THIS narrative?

    Why is Sherman lending himself to the bias of the BBC on this issue of THIS false flag? Why is Sherman turning against logic which before was the main quality of his writing? Why line up with May?


    These gangsters like Mattis and Mrs May are wheeled out year after year, war on Iraq, Arab Spring, war on Libya(then it was Cameron), 2013 gas false flag, and the one thing that is constant they construct their false flag by ignoring logic and go ahead with war…why…because they own the weapons and control their state. They control their states which includes the Media in general because the working class has no leadership and has now no Media voice.

    So it is today on Syria. Logic means zero to these criminals. Repeat a thousand times Assad and Russia had nothing to gain everything to lose. Nor are they stupid. They are very clever. All of that does not matter because THEY (the imperialsits of the world) have the power.

    Still back to the central question which will persist…The BBC in all reports I have heard are not asking the basic question of logic…why use poison gas when they had won everything and were wihin a day of total victory? If they do not ask that question on every report then they are biased.

    And so we are in a very serious situation when Martin Sherman also joins the BBC narrative. What is going on?

    As we are going into war in Syria, a war which has serious implications as Sherman admits, why line up with the BBC narrative?

    All of logic, the only thing that we can rely on today in this sea of lies, points to this being a clumsy false flag. Why does Sherman line up with these utter bastards who hold the reins of power over us? And who push us to the edge of Nuclear War with the only way to avoid Nuclear War being for Russia to back down in some way in the face of these utter bastards of our world.

    By the way I always maintained there was one correct strategy…that was for Israel and all countries who are truly progressive in some or any way to line up with Assad, also with Russia (Not Iran) (Not Hezbollah) to utterly defeat ISIS. That was the vacuum being created right there.

  3. There is no question that Obama has left us with an appalling legacy of appeasement that has enabled Iran to acquire great power and do great mischief.But bewailing the wrongdoing of the past, in and of itself, accomplishes nothing. The key questions for the present are a) ” what is to be done?” to remedy this catastrophic situation, and b), what can us “ordinary” people, not in high office, do to influence the U.S. and Israel to take the actions necessary to remedy it? I wish Dr. Sherman would share with us his thoughts on these two pressing questions.

  4. There is one issue that always seems to be forgotten: nobody becomes president of the US by being stupid. To assume that Obama was/is naive rather than malevolent is stupid and if we do so, we are naive.

  5. @ Edgar G.:
    Edgar, if you look up some videos on YouTube, you will find that English is Sherman’s second language. Because of that, he might be making a genuine mistake. Maybe some slack is called for.


  6. @ Colorado Rose:

    Yes I know, he’s from South Africa and came to Israel when a boy in 1971. So English should be actually his first language, and he has travelled extensively and been on/in countless panels and discussions as well as collecting many degrees and prominent positions. So his English text creation, otherwise perfect, has this small defect. Perhaps, like many writers, he relies on “spellcheck”, which is at fault,

    I myself am old fashioned and although I’ve seen the same error many times, it grates when a highly educated and very literate person can not distinguish between,Royal or ruling, and pulling up,( a horse originally) or putting restraint or halt to some project or action. (I naturally use British/Irish spelling customs, not American)

    I wouldn’t bother if it had been an ignoramus, but just then I was feeling mischeivous..

  7. @ Colorado Rose:

    He and I actually agree and disagree on the contents of several of his articles printed here. No problem, I have high respect for him, and he answers critical posts, where many lesser lights -who should – do not. In this case he realised I was just being trivial.

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