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Pondering An American Response to Atrocities in Syria

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Editor's Note: This column was written by Justice Gilpin-Green, a Townhall Editorial Intern.

It seems that President Bill Clinton’s previous helpful comments for the Republican presidential campaign have finally been reciprocated with Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) own nostalgia for his administration.


At Monday’s American Enterprise Institute (AEI) conference on Syria, McCain said that he wished President Obama would mirror Clinton’s actions with Kosovo. Quoting the former president a few times throughout his speech, McCain praised him for being willing to be active and present in calming foreign violence. In contrast, he referred to today’s lack of American leadership in Syria as the first issue we must overcome to see peace in Syria.

“What the President does not seem to realize is what President Bill Clinton came to realize in Bosnia,” McCain said. “That the diplomatic resolution in conflicts like these is not possible until the military balance of power changes on the ground.”

Although McCain prefaced his speech by saying that he had “seen a lot of death”, he admitted that nothing compared with the horrific accounts of violence that he had heard about from Syrians. For the past 15 months, Syria has experienced an escalating “onslaught of violence…with no end in sight” and an estimated 12,000 lives lost. Like Kosovo, Syria’s conflicts are deeply rooted in pursuits of ethic cleansing. While the Clinton administration dealt with Serbian dictator, Slobodan Milosevic’s cleansing of the Albanians from the Kosovo region, the Obama administration apparently fails to deal with the purging of Sunnis from various regions across Syria.


“Syrian army defectors told us killing and rape and torture is what they were instructed to do as a tactic of terror and intimidation. So, if I get a little emotional when I talk about Syria, that’s why.”

McCain’s emotional references to Syria may simply be symptoms of being too trigger-happy, however. Following his keynote speech, a group of panelists shared their points of view on the Syrian struggle. Although four out of five agreed that American action must be taken, one panelist, Brian Fishman of the New America Foundation argued that he didn’t “see a lot of good outcomes” resulting of military action. In addition, he also addressed McCain’s reference to our allies in the region “crying for American leadership” by offering the rebuttal that these countries couldn’t agree on what would happen following the take-down of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad anyway. However, when asked if he had a “backup plan” to military interference, Fishman said that he did not.

With Obama’s call for Assad to “step down” nearly a year ago, it’s pretty clear what position the U.S. takes on this issue. But that’s the problem- this call was a year ago and not only has the administration done nothing to force its execution, but they have apparently forgotten their plan of action. According to panelist, David Schenker of the Washington Institute Near East Policy, as recently as June 7 of this year, Gen. Martin Dempsey declared that he could only form a strategy for Syria if he knew the desired outcome.


“When it comes to the Administration’s policy toward Syria, to say they are ‘leading from behind’ is too generous,” McCain said. “That suggests they are leading; they’re just behind.”

On the same day as the conference, Obama had a two-hour meeting with Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, to discuss the arms that Russia has been feeding to the Syrians. “We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war,” Obama later said of the meeting.

With Syrian civil war being the ultimate tragedy that everyone fears, AEI conference panelist, Ammar Abdulhamid of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said simply: “Time is not on our side.”

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