Foreign Policy Is Not A ‘CSI’ Episode

By Ambassador John R. Bolton

This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal

President Obama’s response to the July 17 attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has followed a well-established pattern. Viewing international affairs through the confining prism of legal procedures and restraints, Mr. Obama is treating this terrorist act—which even such a stalwart supporter of the president as Sen. Carl Levin called “an act of war”—as something akin to a police homicide investigation.

Mr. Obama has unfortunately dwelled on getting international forensic experts to the crash site instead of emphasizing the vital strategic lessons to be drawn from this terrible episode. He did warn on Friday and again on Mondayof unspecified steps that would be taken—no doubt after the criminal-justice approach plays out—but his vague incantations about “consequences” are also familiar. Red lines ultimately prove illusory with this president, retribution never materializes, and American lassitude and disinterest approach surreal levels.

Tectonic power and political forces—not legalisms—are now clashing in Europe. Vladimir Putin, though a lawyer like the American president, understands this. Mr. Obama does not. Subordinating a president’s primary, existentially important political role to an emphasis on the sifting of evidence impairs America’s ability to protect its vital interests. And, hour by hour, delay saps Europe’s willingness to do more than simply wring its hands.

For much of the past two decades, Russophiles contended that Moscow was finally ready to join the West, but Mr. Putin’s iron determination to re-establish Russian hegemony within the former Soviet Union has repeatedly proven the opposite. For an American president, making clear the broader political implications of Russian belligerence and mobilizing our NATO allies and other like-minded countries ought to be far more important than verifying details like which missile battery fired the deadly rocket, from where, and by whose hand.

The strategic reality is that the rebellion in eastern Ukraine’s conflict is being conducted with Russian direction and material assistance. To be sure, Mr. Putin plays on the local population’s pro-Moscow sympathies, but the key operatives, as in the annexation of Crimea, are either Russians or Ukrainian citizens under Russian command and control.

Ukraine is the great prize among the former Soviet republics, and Mr. Putin suffered a significant setback last winter when Ukrainians overthrew the Yanukovych government. The Flight 17 catastrophe is another crushing blow—or it should have been. But Mr. Putin has played his hand skillfully against a Western alliance left rudderless by detached and indecisive leadership from the White House.

Immediate and longer-term action from the U.S. and its allies is required. It is Moscow’s broader policy of aggressive behavior, extending well beyond Ukraine, that the West must counter. Many have suggested, in response to the downing of Flight 17, instituting additional sanctions against Russia, and substantially increasing U.S. and European military assistance to Ukraine. These and related measures are sensible, but they must be made part of a larger strategic vision. Given Mr. Obama’s short international attention span, even initially robust tactical responses will quickly dissipate.

The larger strategy must rest on recognizing that Russia has assumed an adversarial position against the West. Accordingly, we should not merely aid Ukraine militarily, but also renew President George W. Bush’s 2008 proposal to put Ukraine (and Georgia) clearly on track for NATO membership. We should restore the missile-defense project for Poland and the Czech Republic that Mr. Obama unwisely scrapped soon after he took office, the president should give up on the ill-advised “New START” nuclear-arms treaty with Russia that he continues to pursue, and the U.S. should step up its nuclear readiness.

As for economic responses, sanctions should be sharp and effective. Abandon the gradual-escalation theories hatched in university faculty lounges and impose real pain. Barring Russian institutions from Western financial markets is a good place to start. And we should unleash development of North America’s energy reserves, thereby providing Europe a strategic alternative to Russian hydrocarbons (and benefitting ourselves domestically).

Would Europe agree to such robust steps? Given the recent record of feckless U.S. leadership, we won’t know Europe’s “real” answer until our allies see decisive American action. Eastern and Central Europe would almost certainly respond positively, putting pressure on more-hesitant European Union capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others, is not about to get ahead of the White House in moving against Mr. Putin.

There is much to do, and the time to do it is slipping away. Significantly, the strategic framework we must construct has implications beyond Europe. Beijing is intently watching how Washington deals with Moscow. What China’s leaders have seen to date simply feeds their aggressive aspirations in the East and South China Sea and along the country’s land borders. China’s near neighbors fully grasp the point.

Yet it is not just Europe and Asia that need U.S. leadership. America, for its own safety’s sake, needs it too. On the evidence of recent days, such leadership is still not forthcoming.

Netanyahu Orders Israeli Military To Prepare For ‘Significant Expansion’ Of Gaza Ground Offensive

Associated Press | FOXNEWS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military Friday to prepare for a “significant expansion” of its ground operation against Gaza militants.

Netanyahu said the military’s primary goal would be to destroy underground tunnels used by Hamas to attack the Jewish State. The announcement came hours after Israeli ground troops and tanks struck more than 100 terror targets in Israel’s first major ground offensive in Gaza in just over five years.

The offensive follows an Egyptian effort earlier this week to halt hostilities. Israel accepted the terms, but Hamas refused, demanding that Israel and Egypt first give guarantees to ease the blockade on Gaza.

“Since there is no way to deal with the tunnels only from the air, our soldiers are doing it now from the ground,” Netanyahu said at the opening of an emergency cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem Post reported. “We decided to launch the action after we tried all the other ways, and with an understanding that without this operation the price we will have to pay later would be much higher.”

Tanks, infantry and engineering forces were operating inside the coastal strip. In a statement, the military said it targeted rocket launchers, tunnels and more than 100 other targets. Throughout the night, the thud of tank shells echoed across Gaza, often just a few seconds apart. Several explosions from Israeli missile strikes shook high-rise buildings in central Gaza City. Pillars of smoke could be seen from the Israeli side of the border.

At Gaza’s main Shifa Hospital, casualties quickly began arriving, including several members of the same family wounded by shrapnel from tank shells. Among those hurt were a toddler and a boy of elementary school age, their bodies pocked by small bloody wounds.

Read the complete article at Foxnews 

Iraq’s Descent Into Chaos

By Ambassador John R. Bolton

This article originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Iraq’s descent into chaos has sparked a fierce, high-decibel debate over who is responsible, a debate that unfortunately overshadows the one we truly need about how to protect American interests there today.

The historical debate is, not surprisingly, highly partisan. One side condemns George Bush’s 2003 decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein; others blame Barack Obama’s 2011 withdrawal of essentially all U.S. forces, leaving Iraq to itself.

I am squarely in the second camp. Obama’s decision to elevate ideology and domestic politics over the national interest (plus his limp-wristed treatment of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program) is largely responsible. Understanding why requires two things the anti-Bush argument sadly lacks — appreciating both the hard reality of the Middle East over the past 35 years and, as important, how historical causation actually works.

Between 1980 and 2000, Iran and Iraq, for different reasons, were each hostile to U.S. interests. Nonetheless, successive administrations failed to resolve either threat satisfactorily. Ronald Reagan’s tilt toward Iraq in the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war, for instance, manifestly did not dissuade Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Indeed, hindsight now makes clear we should have overthrown his regime in 1991 rather than returning to the status quo ante bellum.

President Clinton’s “dual containment” policy was even worse, containing neither Iran nor Iraq, while allowing both to support international terrorism and pursue weapons of mass destruction. Clinton also ignored the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan and al-Qaida worldwide, tragically leading to Sept. 11, 2001. After overthrowing the Taliban in 2001-02, Bush next rightly decided to finish the first Persian Gulf War, since Saddam remained an obvious threat to international peace and security. America’s military did so with brilliance and speed.

The “blame Bush” argument rests on two assumptions, both wrong. First, it asserts that Saddam’s 2003 overthrow led inevitably and unalterably to the current state of affairs. But does the chain of causation flow solely and unavoidably from the 2003 decision to invade? No. History is rarely so direct. For example, disbanding Saddam’s army, thereby eliminating the paychecks on which many Sunni Arab families depended, helped fuel discontent during 2003-06 and, in 20/20 hindsight, has been harshly criticized. But was the decision to disband the Saddam-era army directly required by the decision to invade? Obviously not; it was entirely separate and distinct, as were the vast bulk of other post-Saddam decisions.

Moreover, Bush’s 2006-08 “surge” policy, which eliminated the al-Qaida threat in Iraq and re-established considerable domestic political stability, was not inevitably determined by any prior decision. Indeed, Bush originally was a minority within his own government and in Washington generally and most Democrats opposed it. Bush’s surge, however, created an Iraq so stable that the Obama administration would later try to steal the credit for its consequences.

Second, blaming Bush rests on the unverifiable but almost certainly incorrect assumption that had we not invaded in 2003, Iraq’s subsequent alternative history would have been smooth and peaceful. Such naiveté hardly comports with Saddam’s malicious history or the deep and bloody confessional hatreds now on display, not to mention later regional developments, such as the fratricide resulting from the Arab Spring. The blithe spirits content for Saddam to remain in power unchallenged also are shockingly careless with the potential regional threat he posed.

Ask Kuwait.

Subsequent incorrect decisions thus hardly invalidate the logic of the initial decision to invade. One can support the 2003 decision to overthrow Saddam without being required to defend every subsequent decision. Neither history nor real-life decision-making is like a continuously extruded one-piece steel beam. Manifestly, no one has to defend every decision, especially those with which we disagree, in a complex historical chain.

In fact, Bush’s overthrow of Saddam is far from either a necessary or a sufficient condition to explain Iraq’s current chaos. By contrast, Obama’s 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. forces almost certainly fits both those conditions by removing the military power that constituted our principal leverage over al-Maliki and Iran. Iraq’s inexperience with self-government, combined with Iran’s malign efforts to subvert the entire process, necessitated U.S. forces remaining there for several more years and in much larger numbers than Obama would accept.

Moreover, the absence of a status-of-forces agreement was not a real reason to withdraw but only a pretext camouflaging Obama’s ideology and mollifying his domestic political base.

Resolving the historical debate, however, still doesn’t tell us what we should be doing now. This is neither 2003 nor 2011 but an entirely different environment and Iraq’s collapse is accelerating. Our interests and those of our friends and allies haven’t changed but the options now open to us are, sadly, not what they once were. Obama now is in his sixth year of closing his eyes to the Middle East’s deteriorating reality and the global terrorist threat. If history tells us anything, it is that the United States will feel the pain.

ISIS Joins Forces With Saddam Loyalists In Bid To Take Baghdad

Benjamin Hall | Foxnews

For 10 years, members of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party — including many of the dead dictator’s top generals — have hidden in the shadows of Iraq, persecuted by government in Baghdad and plotting, praying and preparing for the chance to reclaim their country.

Now they are back, paired in a bloodthirsty alliance with the brutal jihadis of the Islamic States of Iraq and Syria/Levant. These vicious Islamic radicals fighting alongside top officials from Hussein’s dictatorship, are working to seize control of the battle-scarred nation. For now, their objectives converge.

 “[We are] unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form a Sunni Region,” a senior Baathist leader told

After the invasion of Iraq, thousands of Baathist’s lost their jobs: teachers, doctors, professors, soldiers. Banished from holding any public-sector positions, many found themselves unable to support and feed their families, and their anger grew. This purge is considered one of the major blunders of the invasion, and although it was partly overturned in 2008, the damage had been done.

For a decade, tensions in the Sunni regions simmered under these conditions, as Maliki’s Shia government sought retribution for decades of Saddam’s brutal rule. Many who once were part of the regime found it hard to put food on the table, their anger building as their communities suffered. That the Maliki government continues to shell rebel held cities today, despite the fact many within are innocent civilians, further isolates Sunni communities and pushes them into the sphere of Sunni rebels.

Ultimately it was the failure of Maliki’s government to reach out to these elements that created the ISIS alliance in Iraq. It has drawn comparisons to Syria, where ISIS forces joined with the Free Syrian Army with the intention of toppling Bashar al-Assad’s regime; but in Syria the alliance imploded. The patriotic group fighting to liberate Syria, eventually faced off against the violent jihadists seeking to carve out an extreme fundamentalist state, and today they are at war.

Much has been written about ISIS’s blitzkrieg across northern Iraq, but it is unlikely the fighters would have been as successful without the Baathists. Three of Saddam’s former generals led the takeover of Mosul, and eight of the top 10 generals in the ISIS army are believed to be Baathists. Izzat Douri, a former military commander who Saddam considered to be like a brother, is widely rumored to be in Mosul, overseeing the conflict after hiding out in Qatar and Syria for a decade.

In addition to their military training, the Baathists have been able to tap strong tribal ties in the region to command countless followers. That’s helped to keep the conquered territory in ISIS hands while the army of terrorists and freed soldiers moves forward toward the prize: Baghdad and the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf.

Read the complete article at Foxnews

US, Russia to Begin Ukraine Talks as Tensions Decrease at Border, Analyst Says


A leading Ukrainian military analyst says there are now about 50,000 Russian troops within several hours of the two nations’ border, but there has been a “general decrease in tensions” since Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama on Friday.

Of the 50,000 troops, about 10,000 are located directly at the border, but Dmitry Tymchuk told Fox News on Sunday he has seen some “pull-back and regrouping” of these soldiers, lessening the immediate chances of a full-scale Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to open talks on Sunday with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Paris as part of the latest attempt by Washington to defuse an ongoing conflict with Moscow over future of Ukraine.

Kerry arrived in Paris from a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland. He had been on his way to Washington from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia when he decided to travel to Paris for the talks.

Putin proposed the meeting between the top diplomats in the surprise phone call with Obama, which occurred while the latter was traveling in Saudi Arabia.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that U.S. officials have been divided over whether Putin’s call was indicative of a genuine desire to ease tensions between East and West or a pretext for further military action in Eastern Europe.

White House officials described the call as “frank and direct” and said Obama had urged Putin to offer a written response to a diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine crisis that the U.S. has presented. Obama also urged Moscow to scale back its troop build-up on the border with Ukraine, which has prompted concerns in Kiev and Washington about a possible Russian invasion in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin, on the other hand, said Putin had drawn Obama’s attention to a “rampage of extremists” in Ukraine and suggested “possible steps by the international community to help stabilize the situation” in Ukraine.

Kerry has repeatedly met with Lavrov over the past month in attempts to halt Russia’s annexation of Crimea. However, those talks have proven fruitless, and U.S. officials tell the Journal that Putin is likely to demand that the U.S. accept Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula earlier this month as the minimum necessary for any cooperation between the two nations.

In previous meetings, Mr. Kerry has outlined to Mr. Lavrov a common approach to resolving the Ukraine crisis, U.S. officials told the Journal. This included joint initiatives to stabilize Kiev’s economy, promote the decentralization of the country’s political system and demobilize pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian paramilitaries that have blossomed across the country in recent months. However, those proposed initiatives have been contingent on the unlikely event of Russia pulling back from Crimea.

Read the complete article at Foxnews

Crimean Leader Says Ukrainian Military Units Are Surrendering

David M. Herszenhorn |  New York Times

The prime minister of Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian republic seized by Russian military forces, claimed Tuesday that most Ukrainian military units on the Crimean peninsula had surrendered and had pledged allegiance to his pro-Russian government, and that local officials were working to speed up a referendum on independence.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said that regional officials were in control of the security situation, even as armed standoffs continued between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops at several military installations, including a base near the airport of Belbek near Sevastopol.

“There is no safety threat to human life in Crimea,” Mr. Aksyonov said.

It was not possible to independently verify Mr. Aksyonov’s claims, and even he did not assert that all military units were now aligned with his administration. He did indicate, however, that he believed enough forces were loyal to him to eliminate the threat of an armed insurrection in Crimea.

Mr. Aksyunov, who heads a political party called Russian Unity, was installed at the head of the Crimean regional administration last Thursday after armed men seized the parliament building and raised the Russian flag overhead.

He said that a referendum on independence from Ukraine, scheduled for March 30, would probably be held sooner, but he offered no details. He said that he had not been in contact with Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine, who fled to Russia but has said he plans to return.

Mr. Aksyonov said that Crimean armed forces were now in a position to ensure the security of the peninsula on their own, but that military officials were working with commanders of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Sevastopol under a long-term lease.

“We are coordinating our activists with the Black Sea Fleet,” he said. “But as of today we are in a position to ensure our own security,”

In recent days, soldiers wearing uniforms with no identifying insignia have taken up positions around military bases and other security installations across the peninsula, including outposts and headquarters of the federal border police and some government buildings. They are assisted by self-defense militia groups in plain clothes wearing armbands.

On Tuesday morning, there were plainclothes security guards controlling access to the regional administration building, as well as a group gathered near the regional Parliament in the center of the city, including Cossacks in ethnic uniforms and some older men in green camouflage, along with volunteers cooking food.

Read the complete article at The New York Times

Palestinian UN Statehood Bid — Not Serious Effort to Achieve Middle East Peace


Palestinian U.N. Statehood Bid — More Broadway Theater Than a Serious Effort to Achieve Middle East Peace

By Amb. John Bolton

September 20, 2011

The Palestinian Authority (“P.A.”) is proceeding full steam ahead to create “facts on the ground” in the Middle East by working the Manhattan corridors of the United Nations. This is neither the first time, nor undoubtedly the last, that Palestinian leaders have succumbed to the delusion that Middle Eastern reality can be changed by irrelevant U.N. activity.

The tactical ploys and counter-ploys are now flying around the U.N. compound. In the midst of all of the conflicting news reports we will see and hear, keep in mind one thing: this is more Broadway theater than a serious effort to achieve Middle East peace.

The odds of “Palestine” becoming a U.N. member are essentially zero. Although President Obama may once have toyed with not vetoing a PA move for membership (thus, ironically, encouraging the chaos now unfolding at Turtle Bay), he has rejected this counterproductive idea. Washington will veto, period.

Possibly, the P.A. bid may not even obtain the majority of nine (out of fifteen) Security Council votes it needs under the U.N. Charter, thus meaning that, technically, Washington’s “no” vote would not actually be a “veto.”

Accordingly, I think it unlikely that the P.A. will go to the Council. Although in the U.N. Twilight Zone, defeat is often spun as a moral victory, any more such “victories” for the P.A. could mean its complete collapse.

Most likely, therefore, the P.A. will seek a U.N. General Assembly vote, perhaps recognizing the P.A.’s “statehood,” or perhaps changing its U.N. status from “observer organization” to “observer state.” Given the General Assembly’s political layout, any such resolution, no matter how worded, will pass overwhelmingly.

But what exactly will that mean? Many in Israel and America are panicked at the prospect of “Palestine” being declared a “state,” even if merely an “observer.” Israel officials will be hauled before the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) for prosecution, they say, “Palestine” will suddenly assume control over its air space and waters adjacent to Gaza, they say, impairing Israel’s self-defense. And on and on and on, they say.

This is all nonsense. The only practical result of the General Assemble declaring “Palestine” a state will be to move its chair on the side of the Assembly hall a few feet from its present location to be next to the Vatican, the only other “observer state.” This is nothing to get excited about.

But what of the hysterical concerns so many express, typically to insist that Israel should offer concessions to the P.A. to forestall any U.N. vote? In fact, General Assembly resolutions are not binding on anyone other than itself. It could declare Disneyland an observer state, and treat it accordingly, but no one else need do so.

If the ICC were to interpret a General Assembly resolution as permitting “Palestine” to become a party to the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, it would be making a political decision not a legal decision, and one clearly beyond its authority.

Such an irresponsible ICC action would transform the currently dim chances of America ever joining into an absolute certainty. U.S. opposition to the ICC is already strong, and targeting Israel would lock in our opposition as far into the future as predictive powers allow. Any other U.N. agency making the same decision would risk grave damage, including possibly losing U.S. funding. Bring it on.

The PA’s ill-advised U.N. stratagem will not improve the chances for Middle East peace, it will not truly enhance the PA’s status, and it will not improve living conditions for average Palestinians. This entire episode is fantasy, and should be so regarded, whatever happens on First Avenue.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, is a Fox News contributor and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).

To see this article as it originally appeared on, click here.

Bring the Lockerbie Bomber to Trial–Before It’s Too Late

Monday, August 29, 2011

The following is a transcript from Ambassador John R. Bolton’s appearance on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom” on August 29.


Editor’s note: New reports says the man known as “The Lockerbie Bomber” is on his death bed, once again. The following is from an interview with former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and Fox News Channel anchor Martha MacCallum on August 29 on “America’s Newsroom.”

MARTHA MacCALLUM, ANCHOR: We’re now told that The Lockerbie Bomber is indeed dying of cancer at his Libyan home. His brother spoke to journalists outside the home. Listen to this:

LOCKERBIE BOMBER’S BROTHER: The Lockerbie case is over. He came back to Libya because of a decision from the Scottish Justice Minister. He is a sick man.”

MacCALLUM: You know, I guess you can’t blame his brother for saying that, the family would like this to be over, they have their family member back home, and you know, it’s understandable that that’s their perspective, but a lot of people believe that since Qaddafi’s regime has fallen that maybe we would get another crack at Al Megrahi and getting him back where he belongs.

Think of those 259 passengers and crew on Pan Am 103, falling through the cold dark sky from 30,000 feet, then ask me why this man deserves compassion.

FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS/FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: JOHN BOLTON: Technically he’s still a Scottish prisoner. He’s basically out on parole, compassionate release, they call it, but you know, the terms of the deal under which he was tried under Scottish law ten years ago really were violated by Qaddafi through and through. He didn’t cooperate with the investigation. So I think it’s perfectly legitimate to look at another trial of Megrahi if we can do it before he dies.

I personally think this time the United States insist he be extradited to the United States. I think it was a mistake to agree to try him over Scottish law. Okay, that’s water over the dam but let’s get him back and see what we can do this time.

MacCALLUM: I’m reading a statement that was just released by an assistant to the first minister in Scotland and basically they’re saying this is a closed decision, they’re saying speculation about Al Megrahi in recent days has been unhelpful, unnecessary and indeed ill informed, as has always been said he is dying after terminal disease and decisions about his medical condition should be stopped there, they say they want to stop the running commentary on this issue so Scotland says this is not up for renegotiation. Who besides Scotland would we deal with if we want to force this issue and get him back to where he should be?

BOLTON: Speaking to someone whose heritage is Scottish, I have to say that that’s the most ridiculous thing, the way Scotland has conducted this is ridiculous, they don’t have the unilateral authority to make this decision.

It was a joint agreement with Britain, Scotland and the United States and they released Megrahi two years ago on the theory he was going to die in three months without adequately consulting us; I think they did it at the behest of the British, for British oil interests, but in any event, I think that now it is proper, it is appropriate, for the United States to insist to the new government, the Transitional National Council in Libya, that Megrahi be handed over to us, and I think we should have no hesitation in doing that.

MacCALLUM: But ambassador, the TNC said yesterday they see no reason to turn him over, that they will not turn over a Libyan citizen to the West, so this doesn’t say much for the TNC’s relationship with the rest of the world in terms of how it might have changed with regard to this issue to be sure.

BOLTON: Right. Well so much for gratitude. I understand this morning the transitional government has issued a retraction to that–understandably. They are still a little confused.

So I think we ought to give them a chance to make a decision to hand Megrahi over. I think this is entirely consistent with justice.

He killed 270 innocent people in cold blood, he served an average of two weeks per murder in that Scottish jail, just over ten years, before he was released. Two weeks for murder is not an adequate sentence.

I think we deserve another shot at him

MacCALLUM: A lot people, the families of those killed [on Pan Am 103] say the health–sorry to say it, but his health is really irrelevant in this case. If he dies in prison, so be it. A lot of people die in prison.

BOLTON: Yeah, look, compassion is entirely misplaced here. Think of those 259 passengers and crew on Pan Am 103, falling through the cold dark sky from 30,000 feet, then ask me why this man deserves compassion.

Obama’s Misunderstanding of Syria Crisis


This op-ed originally appeared in August 24, 2011 edition of the New York Post

The end of the Khadafy regime in Libya has focused new attention on the rebels in Syria — as has last week’s belated call by President Obama for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. But it will take a more radical Obama course correction to make a real difference. After six months of bloodshed, with thousands dead, and only mild White House responses earlier, this belated pronouncement is likely too little too late.

At the very least, the administration needs to recognize the false premises behind its mistakes..

First, Obama erred badly in consistently believing that Assad or his regime had any potential for true reform. Since Assad took office in 2000 upon his father’s death (in lieu of his elder brother, the regime’s continued its domestic repression, its support for international terrorism, its pursuit of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and its increasing dominance by Iran.

The inescapable conclusion from this massive record of malevolence is that Bashar was either fully complicit, or utterly ineffective in stopping it. Obama’s persistent, willful blindness to this reality has been central to our feckless Syria policy.

Second, Washington should have declared regime change to be its goal in Syria long ago, not just when protests finally erupted. President George W. Bush gave Damascus a chance after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein to renounce terrorism, give up weapons of mass destruction and make peace with Israel. It chose to do nothing.

From that moment, we should have pursued regime change, aiding legitimate opposition groups and thereby empowering responsible Syrian believers in a free and open society. Instead, we face an environment today where radical Islamists are potential successors to the Ba’athists.

Third, Obama has never understood Iran’s domineering role in Syria. Beyond the Ba’ath Party’s historical propensity for brutality and repression, long ago perfected by Bashar’s father, Iran’s increasingly hegemonic position has virtually ensured that he will not contravene Tehran’s will.

Given Iran’s use of Syria to fund and arm Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups, and its likely use of Syria to hide aspects of its nuclear-weapons program, Iran was never going to permit “reform.”

Indeed, the administration needs to face Iran’s influence across the region. Syria’s and Hezbollah’s murderous intervention has rendered Lebanon virtually prostrate yet again. Hamas’s indiscriminate terrorism against Israel has destroyed the prospects for Palestinian unity and a responsible path to statehood and representative government. Now, with Mubarak’s fall in Egypt, Hamas can conspire in public with its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, to radicalize Egyptians as well as Palestinians.

Obama either didn’t comprehend this relationship, or was simply unwilling to cross the Iranians because of his ethereal hopes to negotiate with Tehran to end its nuclear-weapons program. White House mistakes continue to allow Iran to prevail in Syria.

Fourth, calling for regime change isn’t just a question of timing but also of leadership. The administration waited far too long, thus minimizing the impact of its rhetoric, which is all that its policy really amounts to.

Moreover, prior sanctions, and those just announced by Obama and being discussed in Europe, haven’t squeezed Syria’s regime, nor are they likely to. Sanctions targeting particular institutions and individuals can almost never be effective because they are so susceptible to evasion. Only sweeping sanctions, swiftly and decisively applied and effectively enforced, have a chance of real effect. That is a far cry from what Obama and the European Union have actually done.

Fifth, Assad’s departure alone doesn’t mean broader change. For example, Alawite and Sunni generals may ditch him but maintain a military dictatorship, quite possibly leaving Iran in a dominant role. Or, absent a deal, Sunnis may use force to exact a heavy, bloody price from Alawites for the long Assad dictatorships. Moreover, Sunni Arab governments certainly want to diminish Iran’s influence in Syria, which means it may simply become another front in the Iranian-Saudi battle for dominance within Islam and in the Middle East, already reflected in Bahrain. That is hardly good news for Syria’s civilian population.

Obama has thus far grievously mishandled Syria, as he has an increasingly long list of other crisis spots. Americans will soon have to decide if they can do better, with a president who remembers that true leaders lead from the front.

Click here to see the article as it originally appeared in The New York Post.