Many speak kindly of what Barack Obama did here at home, many of us disagree, but at least he did marginally better here than he did abroad. Obama’s foreign policy strategy may have been one of the most ineffective in US history. The Arab Spring officially began in December, 2010 when a man in Tunisia set himself ablaze to protest oppression. No one could have foreseen the domino effect this would have on the rest of the Middle East. Hosni Mumbarak, the President of Egypt, was the first major president to fall. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was brutally butchered on camera and major protests were beginning in Syria. Seeing the fall of his compatriots, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad sought to suppress the insurrection at all costs. This led to a rapid escalation of violence that eventually broke into a civil war. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were keen to continue to topple these regimes through airstrikes and diplomacy. They figured that Egypt and Libya fell so Syria should be no different. This was a major miscalculation. Syria turned into a war zone that helped foster the growth of ISIS. Al-Assad refused to step down and committed all his forces to destroying the perceived insurgency. As the conflict grew, Obama did nothing as the sparks in Syria turned into a catastrophic wildfire.
On July 19th, 2012, President Obama warned the Assad regime that if they were to use gas, there would be “serious consequences” as it would be crossing a “red line”. Well, they used gas, twice, and Obama did nothing. American forces were ready to strike, eagerly waiting authorization before Obama suddenly backed down. According to former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Obama’s redline was a “serious mistake” saying; “Backing away from reacting once the redline was crossed impacted American credibility”. It certainly encouraged the Assad regime to continue to gas its people despite Obama claiming that they seized its gas capabilities. There was three gas attacks since Obama had issued his hollowed threat. The last gas attack perpetrated was done under President Trump on April 4th, 2017.
April 4th, 2017, dawn breaks in the small village of Khan Sheikhoun. It is still quite early, the sun has yet to rise and many people are still asleep. Mariam Abu Khalil, a 14 year old resident watches from her window as warplanes approach her village. This has become a familiar site in war torn Syria, war planes always patrol the skies and today seemed no different from yesterday. Nonetheless, she keeps her eyes to the skies, ever vigilant as this has become instinct. Suddenly, one of the planes drops a small bomb on a random building. A large, yellow mushroom cloud cascades from the destroyed building and her eyes began to burn; “it was like a winter fog”, she says. Many hear the explosion but are yet unaware of the impending doom. The clock ticks 6:30 am, the sun is up and many flood to the scene to see what is going on.
First responders witness paralyzed people, many of them children, choking in the street with pinpoint pupils. It is a sarin gas attack, a poisonous breeze that affects victims suddenly and brutally. Within seconds of exposure, victims will experience redness of the eyes, foaming of the mouth, and the release of their bowels. As the invisible noose tightens, they will feel a sharp pain in their chest and their vision becomes blurred. In 10 minutes, they will convulse, paralyze and die without knowledge of what had happened. It is an attack of pure terror and one that has been deemed a serious war crime since the original Geneva convention. 58 people died on that day, and it was the third gas attack perpetrated by Bashar Al-Assad.
Two days later, on April 6th, a barrage of American cruise missiles struck a Syrian military base. This was a massive break from Trump’s campaign platform of isolationism. He claimed that the images of the dead children was so visceral, it motivated him to action. Who knows if thats true, but the press went absolutely wild. Some corners criticized the move, many others praised it. It may have been a vindication of Obama’s failure. Nonetheless, Syrian had now become a dangerous quagmire. Russian planes patrolled the skies, Turkish troops stood at its borders, and ISIS was running wild. The American public tuned in for a while but soon their wandering eyes strayed elsewhere. The Trump administration is focused on far east Asia. Meanwhile, the death toll continues to climb, Russia vetoes a UN inquiry into the gas attacks, and Iran is far more involved. Over 400,000 people have died in Syria since 2011 and the tragedy continues.
Donald Trump inherited a wild fire that Obama refused to even acknowledge. His lack of action helped contribute to the deaths of thousands of people. It empowered Assad to commit an egregious war crime and allowed for Russia and Iran to take larger roles in the conflict.