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Obama’s Real Mistake in Syria

DENVER – As US President Barack Obama’s eight-year term winds down, he has been facing intensifying criticism for failing to stop the carnage in Syria – what many call his “worst mistake.” But the alternatives his critics tout would have been just as problematic.

Obama’s detractors condemn his decision not to launch a forceful military intervention to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad early in the conflict, when the US could have backed more moderate forces that were supposedly in play. At the very least, the critics maintain, Obama should have enforced the so-called “red lines” that he set, such as intervening in the event that the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons.

In failing to intervene early and decisively, it is said, Obama shirked his United Nations-backed “Responsibility to Protect” civilian populations from governments committing war crimes against them. Moreover, he left space for external powers that support Assad – especially Russia, which has sent trainers and strike aircraft to help Assad’s forces – to intervene in the conflict.

This criticism misses the mark. While Obama certainly made mistakes in his Syria policy – mistakes that contributed to the crisis spiraling out of control – the interventionism that is increasingly being championed by liberal and neo-conservative pundits alike has proved destructive on more than one occasion, including in Iraq and Libya.