New Castle News

Editorials

May 30, 2013

Our Opinion: What’s happening with American policy in Syria

NEW CASTLE — In an ideal world, the Obama administration and Congress would agree on a plan regarding Syria.

But this is not an ideal world. And it’s certainly not even close to being an ideal world in Washington. So instead of a plan, we get fumbling.

Thus we have some sort of secret mission this week by Sen. John McCain, who crossed the Turkish border into Syria to meet with rebel leaders trying to oust President Bashar Assad. During that trip, McCain offered support to the rebels. He has been a critic of President Obama’s handling of the situation in that civil war-torn country, arguing for more direct support for those seeking to depose Assad.

Frankly, McCain’s trip confuses us. The State Department and White House said they were aware of the senator’s plans, but declined to reveal if he carried any message from Obama. So why was he there?

Traditionally, American foreign policy has been carried out with one voice. While there are — at times — internal debates over details, at the end of the day, it is the president who speaks on behalf of the nation.

The last thing that’s needed is for individual members of Congress to go out and set up their own foreign policies. So while we hope McCain was there as a representative of the president, his prior differences with Obama regarding Syria send decidedly mixed signals.

Syria is indeed a complicated issue. And this helps to explain why the Obama administration hasn’t been particularly clear or decisive on its intentions. For instance, it previously warned it was prepared to take more aggressive action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebels. But when recent evidence suggested that might be the case, Obama hedged.

America already has been in two Middle East wars, which are either still going on or the final results are still up in the air. It also became involved in a civil war in Libya, where there is now an ongoing scandal in Washington related to activities there.

The harsh reality in the Middle East is that there appear to be precious few advocates of representative government who are in a position to make that happen. Not every foe of an entrenched dictator is someone America wants in power.

War inevitably breeds instability. Calling for the overthrow of a regime immediately begs the question of what will replace it. And in the Middle East there is, unfortunately, no guarantee the replacement promises much that is better.

Religious fundamentalists, including some allied with either Iran or al Qaida, are players in this process. Supporting those who can work with the United States, while isolating those who are a threat, can be a tricky proposition.

But the first step is for Washington to get its act together and develop a coherent policy. So far, that’s not happening.

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