The longest birth pang of the Arabic Spring yet, the last sixteen months of the Syrian protest movement, and then the rebellion, have seen the conflict run the same media trajectory that similar international tragedies do: horror, concern, calls for action, and, finally, so ever-present that the images are tuned out as easily as background noise.
While Syria might be a back-burner issue for most Americans, however, it’s one of this country’s biggest foreign policy priorities at the moment. It’s even become part of the first foreign policy salvos of the presidential race, with Mitt Romney calling on Obama “to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups”. What should we be expecting from President Obama regarding Syria, however?
The problem with President Obama’s current approach to foreign policy, for Republicans at least, is that it’s pretty pragmatic. While he’s adopted the tone of a politician following the Democratic overseas orthodoxy, he’s been rather pragmatic with his policy abroad. Just looking at the Arab Spring, for example, President Obama’s administration has pushed for limited armed intervention in Libya, supported freedom-loving protestors in Egypt, and supported the undemocratic regime in Bahrain. There were compelling concerns for American interests in each case, which dictated his response, though it didn’t mesh with how the stereotypical Democrat would have responded in each case.
So what are President Obama’s options with Syria? Part of the reason why the conflict has dragged on so long is because of the international community’s approach to the crisis. Russia and China have opposed any intervention in Syria because they fear it could set a precedent of the UN interfering with their own, obvious domestic problems, whether it’s the silent protests behind the Great Firewall of China or the Occupy Movement forming against Putin’s newest term in power.
This takes any meaningful action that the Security Council can call for off the table because of veto fears. The Arabic League, instrumental in toppling Libya’s leadership, was approached as well, yet the rulers of the member states are more divided on their opinion of Bashar al Assad versus their unanimous hatred of Muammar Gaddafi.
Both international organizations are unwilling to move forwards on any sort of solution to Syria’s crisis, and that means any sort of peace plan America could move forwards on without them will attract healthy amounts of both criticism and suspicion, unless a miracle happens.
Frankly, until something gives on the ground, President Obama has no options that wouldn’t lead to American interests being damaged in some way. He’s not reacting unless that changes, and that perfectly matches with how he’s pragmatically dealt with foreign policy before.