WashPost's Applebaum Pushes Blame For Three-Year Syrian Disaster and Its Effects Onto David Cameron

September 2nd, 2016 8:42 PM

For those who haven't noticed — and that would be understandable, given the national press's and broadcast outlets' consistent lack of interest during the period involved — the ongoing and worsening disaster in Syria in the past three years has caused "physical, human and political damage on an unprecedented scale." That quote comes the subheadline at Anne Applebaum's Monday column in the Washington Post.

The main headline: "The disastrous nonintervention in Syria." So here was Applebaum's problem: How does one chronicle this disaster without making it look like President Barack "Lead From Behind" Obama deserves the lion's share of the blame? Her answer: Blame then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Applebaum's copout is that Cameron's failure to get his nation's parliament to go along with Syrian intervention "spooked" (yes, she really used that word) Obama, who until then supposedly supported intervention, and caused him to "change his mind" — at which point the French, who also supported intervention, decided that they couldn't possibly go it alone (links are in original; bolds are mine throughout this post):

The disastrous nonintervention in Syria
Physical, human and political damage on an unprecedented scale.

I do not know what would have happened if, three years ago Monday, David Cameron, the British prime minister, had not foolishly held and lost a vote on intervention in Syria in the House of Commons. Perhaps if he had paid more attention, seemed more interested and told his colleagues to come home from vacation, he might have succeeded. Perhaps an intervention would have followed. Perhaps it would have helped end the conflict — or perhaps it would have failed.

We will never know. But we do know what happened instead. Britain withdrew support for a mission intended to halt the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator. Spooked by the House of Commons vote, President Obama also changed his mind. On the morning of Aug. 30, 2013, Secretary of State John F. Kerry called for action: “History is full of leaders who have warned against inaction, indifference, and especially against silence when it mattered most.” By the next day, however, the president declared that all plans for a strike were off. The French, caught off guard, didn't’t want to do anything alone, so they too withdrew — regretfully. “It was a great surprise,” the French prime minister told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “If we had bombed as was planned, I think things would be different today.”

Just a year earlier, Obama had made his "red line" declaration after Syrian dictator Assad attacked his opponents with chemical weapons, and supposedly got Assad to give them up. This time, he stood down, preferring widely predicted horrible consequences to come to the apparently far worse prospect of having only the French at his side and having to be seen as primarily responsible for the consequences.

He chose not to even try to make the case for intervention to the American people, instead telling them just ten days later that he would pursue a "diplomatic path" with Russia and seek a U.N. resolution. It's reasonable to question whether Obama was ever interested in intervening. The New York Times, covering the speech, prepped its readers for failure, noting that "his own advisers conceded was rife with risk, given Russia’s steadfast refusal to agree to any previous measures to pressure Syria, its longtime ally."

Three years later, here we are. Applebaum listed the major elements of the disaster, and predictably mischaracterizes the final one:

Three years on, we do know, after all, exactly what nonintervention has produced:

Deaths. Estimates of war casualties range from about 155,000 to 400,000, depending on who is counted. ...

Refugees. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees as of Aug. 16. There are thought to be an additional 2 million refugees who remain inside Syria but are displaced from their homes. Three-quarters of those who have fled their homes are women and children. Most own nothing except what they are wearing. To give some perspective, the refugee crisis caused by the Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s produced 2.3 million refugees, a number then considered to be the worst refugee crisis since the 1940s. The Syrian crisis is three times larger.

Physical destruction. ...

Destabilization of the region. The vast majority of the refugees are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, where they put an enormous economic and political burden on poorer, frailer states. ...

... Destabilization of Europe. Thanks in part to the war in Syria, hundreds of thousands of refugees have sought to reach Europe by boat across the Mediterranean or by foot across the Balkans. ... The European Union’s unwillingness or inability to control the flow has helped further undermine its institutional credibility.

Rise of xenophobia across the West. The spectacle of hundreds of thousands of people walking and sailing into Europe has also launched an unprecedented wave of xenophobia.

Oh, for heaven's sake.

Here's the definition of "xenophobia":

an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange.

In light of all that has happened in Europe as a result of the refugee wave, it's unfathomable how anyone who is genuinely reasonable can say that native Europeans' fears resulting from the very "destablization'" Applebaum herself cited are "unreasonable":

  • It's hardly "unreasonable" to be seriously concerned when refugees in Germany alone committed 200,000 crimes last year — and the refugee influx continues.
  • It's hardly "unreasonable" to be seriously concerned when refugees have been responsible for or have participated in terrorist attacks on European soil.
  • It's hardly "unreasonable" to be seriously concerned when "more than 160 instances of rape and sexual assault (were) committed by migrants in train stations, swimming pools and other public places against victims as young as seven," again in Germany alone, during just the first two months of this year.
  • It's hardly "unreasonable" to be seriously concerned when the culture of those coming in is such that they need to be told that "rape is wrong and unacceptable" (and the natives are reduced to only hoping that they'll listen).
  • It's hardly "unreasonable" to be seriously concerned when, again to cite Germany, “'barely any' of the officially-recognised refugees have actually been employed," and are instead sponging off of their already cash-strapped hosts.

In light of what is really happening, Applebaum's play of the "xenophobia" card is intensely repulsive, up to and including her characterization in her final paragraph to the opponents of an open-ended, unlimited refugee influx as evidence of "renewed stirrings of fascism." Sorry, Anne. What you're really referring to is national and cultural self-defense — perhaps too late to matter.

Applebaum's conclusion:

Maybe ... (the results of nonintervention) are better than the alternative that seemed so unpalatable to the British Parliament and the American president.

Given that Applebaum herself cited "physical, human and political damage on an unprecedented scale," it's hard to imagine how that could be the case. What's worse than "unprecedented"?

Applebaum's effort is a pathetic, irresponsible attempt to shift blame away from President Obama for horrors which have occurred entirely on his watch as a result of his indecision and failure to lead.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.