In the midst of the U.S. Presidential Election this year, nearly everyone in the media, and far too many Americans, have ignored the humanitarian catastrophe that is currently unfolding its latest tragic chapter in Syria. The city of Aleppo, which one or more candidates for the highest office in the land, were clueless about, at least in name (and probably many other areas as well). It has been unfolding for the last five years or so. Its roots go back even further.
We have ignored it, and this website, dedicated to cultural and political commentary, is no exception.
My first inklings of things going awfully wrong in Syria were during my deployment to the Middle East in 2011 and 2012. I, like most soldiers, was singularly focused on our specific mission or would-be missions at the time. However, throughout the ESNN (Enlisted Soldiers News Network) there were plenty of rumors about the situation exploding in Syria and worries over re-deployment there from where we were at in Kuwait (completely unfounded at the time of course). By the time I got back to the United States, and certainly after President Obama was re-elected, ISIS, or ISL, or the Islamic State, very much became a “thing” and a new “wedge” in American political discourse. Much of the discourse was hysterical and unfounded rhetoric, ill-informed and ignorant of the history in the region, let alone recent history. The Syrian civil war, is so complex, that I cannot even begin to explain it in this thousand word article. Instead–I’ll arrive at the timeless news of today. Thousands are dead in Aleppo, many of them innocent children. The complete and utter breakdown in humanity is staggering, and disappointing.
President Barack Obama is a great man, a great example to follow, but a good President. Not a great one.
There have only been three great Presidents — Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. President Obama, while historic, does not belong in the “great” category. He is Woodrow Wilson. Some great ideals, some of the right instincts, a professor-like image, certainly historical, but a lasting legacy that will be shaped more from what he is, rather than what he did or did not do. The Obama policy record on socio-cultural issues is comparatively strong, but very muddled and mixed on economic and foreign policy issues, which are issues the President has far more influence and control over. To be fair, he is still the best President of most of our lifetimes. To be fair to his overall foreign policy record: here are a few select areas where he did well:
- He has removed over 3/4 the troop levels that he inherited from the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq. While he incorrectly “surged” in Afghanistan in the beginning to do so, getting down to historically low levels of troops in the post-9/11 era is no small feat.
- Despite lowering troop levels, through his use of special forces and our vast intelligence network, he oversaw the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.
- He has overseen a policy that has removed roughly 3/4 of the numbers of the Islamic State and suffered very few American casualties while doing so.
- He understands “smart power” and the limits of American power in the 21st century. He likes to do foreign policy quietly, and he understands that patience is very, very important sometimes to achieve goals that exclusive use of military force cannot achieve.
- He understands that it is only through using every tool in the toolbox: economic, diplomatic, and the military, that the U.S. can achieve or get closer to achieving its foreign policy goals.
President Obama was and still is a good foreign policy President, I strongly suspect history will be relatively kind to him, but he is most certainly not a great foreign policy President. Very few are.
Turning back to the humanitarian catastrophe and breakdown of systems and humanity in Syria — there is no longer any running away from the fact that regarding the Syrian Civil War, the international community, regional organizations and power-players, and yes, the United States of America — has failed. This failure of leadership, includes our current President, Barack Obama. No one is safe from it.
Certainly, we’re all human and we make mistakes. A situation like Syria however, where a lack of leadership on the international stage has transpired, will only get worse and more frequent under a Trump administration.
Make no mistake about it — Pax America, for all its warts and faults, is dead.
There is still, however, a great need for solid American leadership on the world stage. There is a need for smart, effective, proportional, and humble American leadership.
For the next four to eight years at least, we will not have that.
Earlier today our time, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara. A lone Turkish gunman stepped right out of a James Bond film, and shot and killed the Russian ambassador, shouting “don’t forget Aleppo!”
All acts of violence represent a failure in the human character and a failure of political systems to solve problems and disagreements. Russia and many others have failed humanity by propping up an Assad regime that is at least as terrible as the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq that the United States spent more than $2 trillion on, at the cost of thousands of American soldiers’ lives, and well over a hundred thousand civilian lives.
The assassination of the Russian ambassador today is similarly reprehensible. However, it does not represent what Franz Ferdinand represented in the lead-up to World War I.
World War I was caused by many factors, the chief driving one, being nationalism and two power-blocs codifying that system of nationalism via treaties. In general terms — we can describe that as the world retreating to comfortable, but worn corners. That is also what is happening today. Be worried, but do not freak out and do not lose hope. Not only is the Russian ambassador not Franz Ferdinand–but Franz Ferdinand himself is not Franz Ferdinand. In 1914, only folks like Lord Grantham cared about Franz Ferdinand. Ferdinand represented the excuse to do what the powers that be wanted to do anyway. Remember this: large and powerful nation-states only go to war when they think they have something to gain. There is a country that looks like that today: Russia.
But it will not be now and it will not be here.
If you are now very concerned, you should have already been concerned. Russian aggression, combined with rising nationalism in Europe, and the world retreating to “comfortable, but worn corners”, has been going on for nearly a decade. Recent Russian aggressions in Ukraine, Georgia and the ones that will likely transpire in the future (next four to eight years), most likely in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania (all NATO member-countries), should concern us all. I dearly hope I’m wrong about those last three predictions, but thus far, this website has a track record of being relatively right about political predictions, and ridiculously wrong about sports predictions.
Like the slow burn of the last decade or so, we will continue to see the rise of far right-wing, national front-type parties in Europe. And if that battle over the future of history is not fought now rhetorically at home, and abroad, I cannot promise anyone anything.