By Sarah N. Stern / September 18, 2014 / American Thinker
In November of 2011, I was on Capitol Hill with some Syrian dissident friends of mine, hoping to gain enough congressional sponsors for a letter to President Obama to offer some real and substantive help to the moderate forces within the Free Syrian Army. At that point there had been a substantial number of freedom-loving dissidents who potentially might have been allied with the United States, and who wanted to overthrow the suffocating and brutal regime of Syrian President Bashir Assad.
In the meantime, Bashir cracked down in the most brutal and inhuman and ruthless ways imaginable. One of my Syrian dissident friends showed me a video of Bashir Assad’s forces chopping up Sunni children and sending cans of them as food to their parents. It is difficult to conceive of a regime so coldblooded and ruthless.
However, as the Syrian people waited for the U.S Cavalry to arrive, the population became increasingly embittered towards the United States and increasingly more radicalized. Years of feeling abandoned by the world’s only Superpower, waiting for American assistance while your family is being butchered, certainly closed the window of opportunity for a loyal American foothold in the Levant, and has only served to radicalize the population.
In humor, relationships and in foreign policy, timing is everything. This atmosphere could have been a contributing factor to the strong emergence of ISIS in Syria.
We all remember how on August 12, 2012, President Obama said, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime. If we see chemical weapons being moved around or used, that would be our red line.”
And then how almost one year to the day later, we witnessed the gruesome spectacle across our television screens of approximately 1,429 Syrians who had been ruthlessly gassed, their bodies flinching and trembling in pain.
We also remember how the president and secretary of state failed to successfully make the case before the American people. Instead he punted it to Congress, and when Congress failed to get the votes, the president remarked at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden on September 4, 2013, President Obama said, “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”
By now there are approximately 200,000 Syrians dead, and at approximately 3 million displaced Syrian refugees, which is creating a new refugee crisis in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
All of this, plus so much more, including the “hot mic” moment with then Russian President Medvedev, the forgotten missile defense treaty with the Czech Republic and Poland, the promised but non-delivered Apache helicopters to Egypt, our forgotten , ironclad assurances to Israel under the Bush administration about being able to build within major population centers in Judea and Samaria, our vehement assurances that “all options are on the table”, when it comes to Iran, have all contributed greatly to America ‘s diminished standing in the world.
It is difficult to join a team when you don’t trust the leader. And now, we are groveling to cobble together an international coalition to take on ISIS. So far, we have France, Germany, Netherlands, and Canada, and very limited number of Arab nations, whose support is limited to air operations, but have not offered to join any potential ground campaign.
For Sunni Arabs, who dread Iran, and particularly for Syrian Sunnis who have watched the Iranian constellation, of which Bashir Assad is a part, become empowered through our inaction in Syria, as well as our groveling towards Hassan Rouhani for some sort of a barely palatable deal between Iran and the P5 plus 1 nations, they might have second thoughts about getting too involved with the United States military who has not even committed to putting troops on the ground.
Beyond that, we have to understand the psychology and sociology of the Sunni Muslim and Arab world. ISIS might be frightening to them, but it is a threat from within their own family. As a Sunni Muslim, there might be a deep feeling of perfidy in joining the fight against an extreme Sunni faction, when the extremist Ayatollahs and Bashir Assad are sitting back in Tehran and laughing.
On January 4th, when ISIS forces were circling Fallujah, a commander appeared among the worshippers chanting Friday prayers, and said, “We are your brothers from the Islamic state in Iran and the Levant. Come join us against the government”.
When asked about this at the time, President Obama, who had claimed during his election season that he had “decimated Al Qaeda”, he had called them “the Junior Varsity team.”
Unfortunately, now the Junior Varsity team has decapitated two American journalists and one Brit, makes approximately 3 million dollars a day selling oil on the black market, controls large swaths of territory in the Middle East, is threatening to starve or slaughter vast numbers of Christians and Yazidis, and have actively recruited hundreds of Westerners, who, upon returning home, may bring back their newly honed Jihadi skills to further radicalize Muslims at home and wage attacks in America.
It is time for us to stop playing checkers while the Ayatollahs and Caliphs are playing chess. It looks like the real junior varsity team is now sitting in the White House.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of EMET, an unabashedly pro-American and pro-Israel think tank and policy shop in our nation’s capital.