December 8, 2015

America Rising PAC Medium Post: 5 Ways Hillary Clinton’s Failed Policies Led To The Crisis In Syria

The following is a post by America Rising PAC Executive Director Colin Reed originally published on Medium:

The most recent State Department release of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails provides a revealing window into her priorities while in office. Politico’s Annie Karni reports that Clinton’s emails show “a hunger for intel on the domestic political scene — and an eye toward presidential politics.” Another series of emails show that Clinton and her staff kept careful count of the number of countries she visited, ostensibly with an eye toward a future campaign trail talking point.

Perhaps her focus on the next rung of her career ladder explains Clinton’s misguided and inconsistent policy approach to Syria as the country’s top diplomat, which is directly responsible for the worsening chaos in the region today and the increasingly dire existential threat posed by ISIS. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State is responsible for creating the Syrian crisis for five key reasons:

1. Clinton Led The U.S. Reengagement With The Brutal, Anti-American Syrian Regime Backed By Iran

When the Obama Administration made moves to reengage with Syria, Clinton largely took credit for new policy, calling it a “fruitful engagement.” In a 2009 press conference, she said:

“As you know, we began a policy of reengaging Syria when I became secretary of state, and working with our team here — Jeff Feltman and others from the State Department and the White House. And we think that it’s a fruitful engagement that we intend to pursue. We have notified the Syrians that we are returning an ambassador to Damascus.”

Experts argued that the Clinton-Obama reengagement flew in the face of history. A 2010 Washington Post editorial stated:

[A]nyone who thinks the Obama administration has come up with a way to change the Middle East through detente with Syria would do well to study the history of Mr. Assad’s decade in power. That gambit has been tried, by more Western diplomats and politicians than can be counted, and the results are clear: It doesn’t work.

Assad’s actions following Clinton’s reengagement bore this out. He followed his familiar pattern of undermining U.S. interests and engaging in public belligerence:

· In 2009, Clinton acknowledged that the pipeline in Syria that allowed foreign fighters into Iraq had been reactivated.

· In 2010, the State Department caught Assad lying about arming Hezbollah with SCUD missiles.

· U.S. efforts to draw Syria away from Iran met with scorn from Assad, who publicly rebuked the Administration and grew ever closer to the neighboring country and the unstable Ahmadinejad regime.

· Assad continued to obfuscate about Syria’s nuclear activities and blocked IAEA nuclear inspectors, according to Clinton’s State Department.

2. Clinton Agreed That Assad Was A “Reformer” And A “Different Leader”

Clinton agreed with the characterization that Assad is “reformer” and said he was a “different leader” than his notoriously murderous father in a March 2011 interview with CBS’ Bob Schieffer:

“There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer. What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning. But there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities than police actions which frankly have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.”

Experts and editorial boards yet again questioned her judgment. The Washington Post wrote, “Ms. Clinton was only reflecting a piece of wishful thinking to which the Obama administration and its congressional allies have tenaciously clung: that Mr. Assad, despite his brutality, sponsorship of terrorism and close alliance with Iran, can somehow be turned into a Western ally.”

3. Clinton Supported President Obama’s “Red Line” And Then Backed Off

Clinton originally supported Obama’s “red line,” which threatened military action against Assad if he used chemical weapons. Speaking to reporters in Belgium in December of 2012, Clinton said:

“[O]ur concerns are that an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria. And so as part of the absolute unity that we all have on this issue, we have sent an unmistakable message that this would cross a redline and those responsible would be held to account.”

However, after Assad clearly crossed the line, Clinton supported a Russia-sponsored chemical weapons pact that would allow Assad to remove his chemical weapons to stay in power, without following through on the threat of U.S. military action. CNN reported in 2013:

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday it would be an ‘important step’ if Syria immediately surrendered its chemical weapons stockpiles to international control. … She adhered to the White House line on Russia’s proposal earlier in the day that Syria relinquish chemical weapons to international control to avert a possible U.S. military strike, which Obama is trying to get Congress to approve.

This came after United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan tried to broker a deal for a political solution in Syria, a deal that was scrapped when the Obama Administration reneged on an earlier Clinton promise, leading Annan to resign in frustration.

Unsurprisingly, the Russia-sponsored pact wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. In 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Assad violated the pact by using chlorine gas bombs, and in November 2015 U.S. and European Union diplomats addressing the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that Assad continues to use chemical weapons against his own people.

4. Clinton Underestimated ISIS

President Obama’s dismissal of ISIS as a “JV team” is now infamous, but less often-repeated are Clinton’s claims that she “could not have predicted” the rise of the Islamic State, despite clear warning signs that reverberated throughout the world. Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in June 2014, Clinton sought to deflect responsibility:

“So this is not just a Syrian problem anymore. I never thought it was just a Syrian problem. I thought it was a regional problem. I could not have predicted, however, the extent to which ISIS could be effective in seizing cities in Iraq and trying to erase boundaries to create an Islamic state.”

Clinton, like Obama, failed to accurately assess the threat posed by ISIS, and to this day refuses to address the nature of America’s enemy head-on. The day after ISIS terrorists unleashed violent attacks across Paris, during the November 14, 2015 Democratic presidential debate, Clinton refused to refer to ISIS as “radical Islam.”

5. Clinton Has Avoided Any Consistent Position On Arming Syrian Rebels

In her 2014 book, Hard Choices, Clinton portrayed herself as a key advocate for arming the Syrian rebel force: “I returned to Washington reasonably confident that if we decided to begin arming and training moderate Syrian rebels, we could put in place effective coordination with our regional partners. By now inter-agency planning was in high gear, and Petraeus presented our plan to the President.”

Obama rejected that plan, and since then Clinton has taken several inconsistent positions on the Syrian rebels. First Clinton downplayed the program, casting it as a largely symbolic measure “to show whose side we were on,” during a town hall event in June 2014. But just months later, she had a different spin. In an August 2014 interview, Clinton said the “failure” to arm moderate rebels in Syria left a vacuum that ISIS then filled.

In October 2015, after the program had yielded just a handful of rebel fighters and U.S.-trained rebels reportedly handed over their weapons to al-Qaeda terrorists, the Obama Administration announced it was ending its $500 million dollar training program, which was “widely considered a failure” according to The Associated Press. Clinton’s record is one of flip-flops, initially saying she was for the program, then saying it didn’t matter anyway, then saying it did so matter and we should have done it. The only consistency is saying whatever she believes is politically helpful.”

Conclusion

Today’s Syria has been described as “Hell on Earth,” led by a brutal dictator who has killed thousands of his own people and whose policies have led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands. Clinton’s own Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter, referred to Syria as “the Rwanda of this administration” and “completely foreseeable.” The abject failure of U.S. initiatives to make any measurable impact in Syria, and to enable the rise of ISIS, is a direct results of Secretary Clinton’s deeply flawed judgment, naiveté when dealing with bad actors like Assad and Putin, and failed foreign policy agenda.