Syria, Bloody Syria

Syria, Bloody Syria

© David Burton 2013


     Like nearly all of his blundering missteps in foreign policy, President Obama’s actions vis-à-vis Syria are an embarrassment to the United States, another example of his naivety in addressing the life-and-death issues of world politics, and the death sentence for untold thousands more victims of the world’s ruthless dictatorships. My issues with the President aren’t whether or not to take military action in Syria, but his ineffective blustering, vacillation, and total unpreparedness for taking a leadership role in addressing the problem in Syria, as has previously been the case in his dealings with North Korea, Iran, Lybia (Benghazi), Russia, etc.

     What President Obama has never understood in his liberal naivety is that despots in the Middle East do not abide by the civilized rules of the West. Instead they adhere to their own set of rules, which Thomas Friedman has dubbed the Hama Rules.

     In 1982, Friedman visited the site of the former Syrian town of Hama — famed for its water wheels on the Orontes River. The Syrian President at the time, Hafez al-Assad, had put down a Sunni Muslim rebellion in Hama by shelling the neighborhoods where the revolt was centered, then dynamiting buildings, some with residents still inside, and finally steamrolling them flat, like a parking lot. The al-Assad regime was “encouraging” Syrians to drive through the town to see the crushed neighborhoods and to understand the consequences of opposing him.

     President Hafez al-Assad, in an act of Mid-Eastern style brutality, had taken the opportunity to settle scores between his minority Alawite regime and Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority that had dared to challenge him. According to Amnesty International, up to 20,000 people were buried there. This was the perfect example of the application of Hama Rules.

     Hama Rules are the typical leadership rules in the Arab world. Hama Rules are simple - there are no rules! Hama rules are intended to strike fear in the hearts of any potential opponent, to let them know that you play by no rules at all, and to dissuade them from ever thinking about opposing you.

     Syria’s current president, Bashar Assad, the son of Hafez al-Assad, apparently understands Hama Rules quite well and is applying them in typical Mid-East brutal fashion.

     “When Syria’s Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people last March, President Obama called in the lawyers and the scientists to do forensic analysis and at the end of the day he did nothing – his “red line” pledge of August 2012 notwithstanding.
     “And so, not surprisingly, last week {w/e 24 August 2013} Assad launched another chemical attack, this time in a suburb of Damascus and the death toll ranges anywhere from 500 to 1,000 civilians. Now, it seems, the administration has decided – it needs to do something.
      - - -
     “Now, at long last, the Obama administration is weighing its options – which, are, of course, fewer than they might have been had the Syrian people not been made to endure two years of abuse and their Mideast neighbors floods of refugees. Clearly the debating society that is the United Nations is useless with Syria’s best buddy Russia holding veto power in the Security Council.
      - - -
     “Two years of doing “nothing” has brought years of pain and suffering to the Syrian people and instability to the region. (Ref. 1).

     In response to the President’s actions, “The Syrian government yesterday {1 September 2013} reveled in President Obama’s decision to delay a threatened missile attack on the war-torn country, while opposition fighters warned the dictator’s forces have won time to hide the weapons and soldiers.” (Ref. 2).

     “There has never been a more inept, indecisive occupant of the White House in this nation’s once proud history, (And yes that even includes the hapless Jimmy Carter).
     “This nation used to stand for something. Our president was once called – quite seriously in fact – the Leader of the Free World.
     “Barack Obama has degraded the office and in doing so put this nation and most of the Middle East at risk.
     “On Friday {30 August 2013} Secretary of State John Kerry outlined in the clearest possible terms the case for an imminent U.S. attack on Syria – more than a week after Bashar Assad had slaughtered more than 1,400 of his own people, including more than 400 children, with chemical weapons.
     “Within the hour President Obama was walking that back, talking about how very limited and short-term any military action would be.
     “Little more than 24 hours later he was telling the nation there was no big rush and he’ll put the issue to Congress - when they get back from their recess, maybe by Sept. 9 or so after briefings this week and perhaps hearings, debate and then finally a vote.
     “Now consulting with Congress is usually a good thing. In fact, he could have done that last March after our intelligence community had proof that Assad had used chemical weapons then. He did nothing. And so with no one to stop him, Assad did what every bully does – he upped the ante.” (Ref. 3).

     Our president and, indeed, the United States look like blithering idiots. First the President declares a “red line" over which we will not allow the regime in Damascus to cross. So what does President Assad do? Five months ago, he crosses it! Our president does nothing in response! Now, some five months later, according to our own Secretary of State and our President, Assad thumbs his nose at us and does it again, killing over 1,400 civilians, many of them children. So what does our fearless leader do now? He blusters and threatens to do something. But first, he wants to have a congressional debate; then we will do something, but he tells the Syrian regime not to worry too much because we won’t act too fast, we won’t send in the marines, and whatever we do will only be temporary. In other words, Assad, you have time to move, hide or fortify whatever you want. Maybe later we’ll slap your wrist. Our President is also comforting the people of Syria by telling them he’s so sorry about the killings that have occurred since he first warned the Syrian president five months ago and they will just have to be patient and continue their suffering while he vacations on Martha’s Vineyard and sits safely in the White House. He’s in no rush to stop the killings while he contemplates what action to take and while he asks Congress to support him.

     A president of these United States should never make threats which he is unprepared to carry out. It’s better to keep one’s mouth shut than to make a fool of one’s self threatening to do something which he won’t do. President Obama is currently embarrassing himself and the U.S. If, in March of 2013, the President told the world that use of chemical weapons in Syria would result in action by the United States, he should have been prepared to act in March of 2013.

     It is an axiom of leadership, both political and military, that one must have plans for any contingency. Military war games are “what if” games leading to contingency plans. It is inconceivable that the U.S. Military did not or does not have contingency plans for just about any conceivable eventuality in the Mid-East. The occurrence of an event that requires a military response should not require weeks or months or contemplation and indecision. It should take a few days, if not hours, to dust off the appropriate contingency plan, update it and then implement it. Instead, we have the spectacle of the leader of the supposedly most powerful nation on the face of the earth spouting meaningless threats, and demonstrating confusion and indecision, if not incompetence.

     Wagging one’s finger at Assad and proclaiming “tsk, tsk, tsk, - bad boy” isn’t leadership. “Better late than never” doesn’t mean much to the families of the more than 100,000 Syrians that have been killed so far, or to the 1,000,000-plus refugees that have fled from Syria in the past two years. Once more, President Obama has been shown to be long on rhetoric but lacking in resolve and action. While words are cheap, action isn’t. Unfortunately, decisive action usually has a cost, both in terms of American lives and money. But we should have a moral imperative to take action and to try and stop the bloodbath. Contrast President Obama’s apparent unpreparedness, blustering, posturing, dithering timidity, and unconscionable non-action with the swift and effective actions of Israel with regard to Syria.

     Confronted with intelligence that advanced Russian missiles sent to Syria were to be sent to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Israel determined what needed to be done, how to do it, and then did it. There was no blustering or meaningless threats – just effective action. Below is a July 2013 report of Israel’s actions in response to a perceived threat to its security.

     “Israeli air force jets bombed trucks carrying Syrian missiles bound for Hezbollah's warehouses in Lebanon, according to Syrian opposition sources. The sources were cited Sunday by Voice of Israel radio's Arabic-language service, which was quoted by i24 News.
     “The Friday night bombing reportedly targeted a Syrian military base near the town of Quneitra, not far from the Golan Heights cease-fire line.
     “This was the fifth known Israeli attack this year on Syrian weapons bound for Hezbollah. Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad reportedly wants to send the weapons to Hezbollah for safekeeping, out of fears they will fall into the hands of the rebels forces fighting him inside Syria, whilst the Iranian-backed terrorist group {Hezbollah} seeks ‘game changing weapons’ - such as anti-aircraft missiles - in exchange for its costly intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Syrian regime.” (Ref. 4).

     In another report of Israel's response to the presence of advanced missiles in Syria and Lebanon, we read: “On Sunday, U.S. officials confirmed that Israel carried out an air strike inside Syria earlier this summer. The strike took place on July 5 near the port city of Latakia, where it is believed that the Syrian armed forces had acquired advanced anti-ship weapons from Russia. Russian Yakhont missiles are part of the Syrian coastal defense system. U.S. officials have refused to reveal the details of the strike, except to say, Israel's goal is to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons from the Syrian government to Hezbollah.” (Ref. 5).

     The response of Syria to the Israeli bombings? - None! The result of the Israeli bombings? - The missiles in question were destroyed! Hezbollah didn’t receive the missiles with which to attack Israel! One fact has always been clear in dealing with Mid-East tyrants – They take meaningless threats as signs of weakness and an open invitation to continue their tyranny. On the other hand, they clearly understand and respect the use of power against them. In the Middle East, Talk is cheap and meaningless – it’s action and the demonstration of power that counts! President Obama never has and still doesn’t understand this fact.

     The Obama performance with respect to Syria has to remind us of Jimmy Carter's blundering performances during the hostage crisis in Iran.

     One has to ask how could Obama have drawn the red line in the sand about chemical weapons without thinking through all the ramifications. Obama boxed himself into a corner by opening his mouth without having a plan to enforce his words. Now, he is trying to save himself from humiliation by calling for a vote from Congress. At first, he wanted to convince the public that he had the duty and the right to attack without Congressional approval. Now, he is calling for a very limited strike. Just what is meant by a limited strike? Are we going to lob a few bombs at Syria, and then leave them alone to keep on killing all their people? Or is the USA going to bomb the hell out of Assad's troops and let Al-Qaeda take over the country?

     The President hasn’t helped his Secretary of State with his public statements. Kerry (with Obama's apparent approval) came out with a strong, fighting statement that we were going to expeditiously punish Syria. Almost immediately Obama contradicted Kerry, saying that he was in no rush to act and that any action that might be taken would be very limited. Makes Assad shake in his boots, doesn’t it? What message does all of this send to our friends in the region? Perhaps most importantly, what emboldening message does this send to our adversaries around the world? What message is being perceived by the leaders of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, the regimes in North Korea and Iran, along with the terrorists in Libya, Yemen and elsewhere? Do our friends think that we will be there if and when they need us? Does the conscience of the American people take pride in what we are doing to alleviate the misery and suffering of the Syrian people?


  1. Waking up to Syria, OpEd, Boston Herald, Page 18, 27 August 2013.
  2. Syrian leaders pleased about U.S. ‘retreat’, Christine McConville, Boston Herald, Page 9, 2 September 2013.
  3. The price of dithering, OpEd, Boston Herald, Page 12, 2 September 2013.
  4. Report: Israel Bombs Another Syrian Weapons Convoy, Gil Ronen, Arutz Sheva 7:,
    28 July 2013.
  5. Israel Now Bombing Syria Like It's No Big Deal, Usman Butt, policymic, Accessed 2 September 2013.


  9 September 2013 {Article 176; Govt_46}    
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