The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl thinks so
Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans are doing their best to portray the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and its aftermath as a signal foreign policy disaster for Barack Obama. But my bet is that when historians look back on Obama’s mistakes in the last four years, they will focus on something entirely different: his catastrophic mishandling of the revolution in Syria.
The deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi were a calamity — but those losses were mainly the result of poor security decisions by mid-level State Department officials, not policy choices by Obama. The president’s handling of Syria, on the other hand, exemplifies every weakness in his foreign policy — from his excessive faith in “engaging” troublesome foreign leaders to his insistence on multilateralism as an end in itself to his self-defeating caution in asserting American power.
The result is not a painful but isolated setback, but an emerging strategic disaster: a war in the heart of the Middle East that is steadily spilling over to vital U.S. allies, such as Turkey and Jordan, and to volatile neighbors, such as Iraq and Lebanon. Al-Qaeda is far more active in Syria than it is in Libya — while more liberal and secular forces are turning against the United States because of its failure to help them. More than 30,000 people — most of them civilians — have been killed, and the toll mounts by the hundreds every day.
Of course, Obama is not solely responsible for this mess. But his serial miscalculations have had the consistent if unintended effect of enabling Syria’s Bashar al-Assad — first to avoid international isolation, then to go on slaughtering his own population with impunity.
Make sure to read the rest of Diehl’s op-ed for his full reasoning.
I’m not fully convinced that Syria is Obama’s worst bungle, particularly in the foreign policy realm. But, Syria is certainly the face of his bungle. Overall, it is Obama’s failure to engage when the Green Revolution started in Iran, leading to the Arab Spring. There was never any need for the US military to get involved, nor to project American power, yet, the government of the United States decided to mostly stay neutral and not aggressively push for freedom in Iran and the other countries. In Egypt, after first pushing for Hosni Mubarak to stay, the Obama admin then pushed him under the bus. But, he waited to long, and Islamic extremists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, became heavily involved in the protests. In most of the other Arab Spring countries, the hardcore Islamists have now taken over or become heavily involved, and what they want doesn’t resemble liberty and freedom, but submission.
Then came Libya, where America did project power and get a bit more involved. But, this allowed al Qaeda and other Islamist groups to stream into Libya. And then came Syria, with all the contradictory messaging. We heard from Hillary Clinton that al-Assad was a reformer. There was no other engagement, other than a few harsh words. This led the protesters, who were being killed left and right, to welcome Islamist groups into the fold, including al Qaeda.
Certainly, there has been a failure in the international community to engage what is going on in Syria correctly. We can’t simply blame this on Obama, if we’re being honest. No one really wanted to get bogged down in another war. But, if we were going to project air power in Libya to supposedly protect civilians (in reality to protect the oil exports to France and Britain), why not do that in Syria? Then it became to late.
So, Syria will become the face of Obama’s leading from the golf course foreign policy agenda, but, it is his failure to engage the Arab nations on freedom and liberty that is the true failure if they become more regressive and extremist, restricting the rights of women and gays, instituting more strict Sharia compliance (think Iran and the Taliban).