Obama’s Syria Policy Comes Dangerously Close to ‘Bush Doctrine’

The Obama administration is peddling two scenarios for a potential war in Syria. With news and official statements this week repeating uncorroborated allegations that the Assad regime is moving and mixing elements of chemical weapons and possibly loading the materials into bombs, administration officials warn that the US could intervene militarily (1) if the regime uses these weapons on its own people, and (2) if the danger that these chemical weapons could get into the hands of Islamic militant groups becomes too great.

While it is true that the Obama administration may intervene under scenario (1), public statements to this effect are misleading. Consider Bilal Y. Saab, Executive Director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, on why Obama’s supposed red line on the use of chemical weapons “lacks credibility.”

Why has the United States drawn a red line here and not elsewhere?

Obama’s words could reflect a humanitarian concern and a moral responsibility to prevent the further loss of life in Syria. Yet the president has not reacted forcefully to the tens of thousands who have already perished without a single poison being used. Chemical weapons are considered weapons of mass destruction, and if used effectively, could kill in the thousands. But so can fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and artillery—and they already have.

Indeed, chemical weapons draw international alarm, but they are no more a threat to civilian life really than what has already been going on in Syria. Additionally, in order to intervene on this basis, the US would have to justify it under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which is controversial to say the least. And the intervention would rest on even shakier legal basis because it would be unlikely to receive full support at the UN Security Council.

Even then, the US lacks feasible military options. A no-fly zone is likely to put more civilians at risk, and bombing the chemical stockpiles would be about as bad as Assad unleashing them on his own targets. If the US were to move in with ground forces to secure the weapons, it would take at least 75,000 troops, and any limited mission to secure the weapons would lend itself to mission creep and eventually turn into regime change with no viable interim government, which would then turn into a long and bloody occupation costing hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars as it did in Iraq.

What about scenario (2)? The Obama administration is playing it off like this is the less important of the two scenarios for intervention, but I’m betting its the more important one, just not for public consumption. In August, Obama said “We cannot have a situation in which [chemical/biological weapons] are falling into the hands of the wrong people.” On Wednesday, Secretary of State Clinton reiterated that “Our 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.” Israel’s vice prime minister Moshe Yaalon said on Thursday, “There is speculation that the chemical arsenal will fall into the hostile and irresponsible hands of the likes of al-Qaida or other terrorist groups.”

For those of us that can remember the Bush administration’s justifications for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this scenario should sound familiar. Three international relations scholars, Paul R. Williams, J. Trevor Ulbrick, and Jonathan Worboys, explain in Foreign Policy how “the Obama administration risks resurrecting the much-maligned Bush Doctrine of preemptive self-defense.”

Under international law, a state may only invoke its right of self-defense in the case of an actual or imminent attack. After the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda, however, the Bush administration asserted a right of preemptive self-defense against terrorist groups and states that harbor them or could supply them with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Many states and experts rejected this justification for the 2003 Iraq war because Iraq could not be linked to WMDs or the 9/11 attacks. Unlike Iraq, Syria has CBW and has forged a close partnership with Hezbollah. Nevertheless, preemptive self-defense still suffers from the same theoretical deficiencies it did in 2003. The doctrine has a weak basis in international law and its legal recognition would improperly justify the use of force by powerful states.

The Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was an outright war crime, resting as it did on fudged evidence of a non-existent threat and, of course, no credible justification of self-defense. The situation with Syria right now isn’t exactly identical, but it’s notable that the Obama administration’s calculations for intervention rest on the same, almost universally reviled war criminal logic as the Bush administration.

In some ways, the current situation is even messier. The Obama administration has explicitly refused to comment “on the specific intelligence” on Syria’s chemical weapons that inflamed so much bluster this week, but Syrian officials continue to emphatically deny any suggestion that they are planning on using them.

“Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide,” President Bashar Assad’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday, adding that the West was whipping up fears  as a “pretext for intervention.”

Finally, the US may not have found itself in a situation where Islamic extremist militants in Syria could get a hold of chemical weapons if – for example – the US hadn’t been bolstering these groups as part of the rebel opposition. So, there’s that.

13 thoughts on “Obama’s Syria Policy Comes Dangerously Close to ‘Bush Doctrine’”

  1. Scenario two is just the cover up for what was intended all along – to destroy Syria's missile capability and degrade its military so that Israel can attack Lebanon and then start the Iran war.

    The entire "chemical weapons" claim is an outright lie. Assad would not be so stupid as to try to use these weapons on the insurgents because he knows he will be attacked by the US and NATO. And as noted in the article, chemical weapons aren't effective in these situations anyway – which the Syrian military would know. They have limited tactical use.

    The nice part – for Obama – about scenario two is that it doesn't need ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER. Scenario one needs dead bodies – or at least faked reports of dead bodies like much of the "massacres" we've seen so far. Scenario two just needs someone in the intelligence community – or an ally, cough Israel cough – to declare that chemical weapons are in the hands of …someone. No proof needs to be produced whatsoever to anyone.

    This is how Obama operates – lies and a knife in the back.

    1. The problem with the logic behind scenario #2 is that the US and its allies are the whole reason why Islamic militants might possibly get their hands on the weapons in the first place.

      For a long while now, what this situation reminds me of is Ollie North and the Reagan administration and Iran-Contra. The US didn't want to be seen arming Islamic militants to overthrow a regime that is willing to try to stand up to the US and Israel, so the US has gotten / encouraged others, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia to do this. While the US has provided 'non-lethal' aid, and apparently been helping with the logistics of getting the Qatar/Saudi financed 'lethal' aid to the Islamic militants.

      This is where it gets truly bizarre, because anyone knows who's paying attention that Saudi Arabia's idea of friends and allies are the Al Qaida terrorists who attacked the US on 9-11. An attack that was led by a Saudi prince and where most of the attackers were apparently Saudis.

      If the 'war on terror' was ever anything other than a smokescreen for American imperialism and world domination, then the one thing we should have been doing in the last decade would have been watching the Saudis and preventing them from aiding more Al-Qaida like terrorists. Instead, we've apparently become the facilitator and logistical experts helping them out.

      And now, to get truly bizarre, we are told that because the Saudi backed Islamic terrorists are possibly getting strong enough to maybe get their hands on Syrian weapons, that we have to spend billions of American tax payer dollars and probably lose American lives in order to prevent the very thing we've been organizing for over a year.

      These liars have no shame at all. Who are the idiots that voted for them, or for the lying Republicans who were trying to get their hands on power to start the same war if they'd been elected? I really wish you people would stop that.

  2. The Obama policy toward nations that U.S is at war with or have a plan to go to war with never was anything but following the Paul Wolfowitz and Bush or Clinton for that matter. Look: Hillary Clinton said in or about year ago that: this is the last thing U.S going to do for Middle East, she also bet on regime change in syria, all that was after when EU, U.S, the saudis and UAE lies become a success story at the UN and war with Libya started resulting to replace the libyan government with another form of dictatorship, as they helped the same thing to happen in Egypt and etc., from that moment on she and Obama is been busy with what to do with syria…, this was the plan and Paul Wolfowitz idea which have satiated in 1990, now that USSR is no longer there it is time for U.S to stand against anyone out there who are or might become a force against U.S interests, emphasizing the U.S interests is about U.S empire and the empire economical, the military points of interests for planed wars. That's when Balkan War started, later the Afghanistan then Iraq and now Syria. U.S and EU have begin sharing their interests in dividing Yugoslavia in what is today. Now the very same policies are followed by yet another president with a twist or two here and there, Bush give $650 dollars to American thanking them for their vote for him to start the wars, Obama is giving the Obama "care" thanking the voters for giving him the opportunity to start the new mess in Middle East. They treat their people as a dog giving it a bone making sure that they are silenced and not complaining. As of today's date the word "dangerously" is no longer relative to what is happening in Syria, U.S and EU actually been playing with fire for some times now, therefore, this word "dangerously" should used Hohhot 15 years ago.., do you remember Saddam Hussein saying, "this is the mother of all wars", and is an on going mother of wars started by those who think differently, who think that they are about democracy, that they are doing something good for humanity, that is alright with what they do and every now and then throw a bone to silence people or play a theater called "Cliff".

  3. Glaser…

    You still just don't seem to "get it"…

    The narrative itself is a means to an end…that's all it is…that's it. It will change if, and when, it convenient and useful to do so…tomorrow the narrative could be completely different (even the opposite of what it is today), but the illegitimate objective of toppling Assad, the legitimate President of a sovereign state, and dismantling the "regime" (the legitimate government and political leadership of a sovereign state–as defined by the Syrian constitution) simply to recreate another more to the liking of the foreign aggressors, without the consent of the "Syrian people", will remain the same…

    From what I can tell, Assad as 'President' enjoys the 'popular' support of the "Syrian People"…be that as it may, what I 'think' about this is irrelevant. I guess there one objective, and fair, way to find out: it's called an "election" via "a ballot box"–which Assad has already proposed, and continues to propose, only to be ignored by the Obama Administration and the rest of the US political leadership, along with his lame-stream lackeys and international conspirators…so Assad cannot even "prove" he has the popular support of the "Syrian People"…according to the Obama Administration.

    Anyway, this is what the Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak said in December of 2011, 1 year ago, about Assad:

    "A downfall of Assad would be a blessing for the Middle East""(w)e cannot tell what will happen … In any event it will be a blow to the Iran-Hezbollah axis."

    –Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak (12/11/2011)


    Barak seems to believe anything that comes after Assad would be 'better', or at least: no worse, for the “Middle East”—by which he means "Israel"— than Assad remaining in power … I’m sure he’s not alone here…he obviously is not…

  4. This is clearly a proxy war being waged by the US (this is even stated 'policy' if you listen carefully) in conjunction and collaboration with other Nations against the Assad regime. They provide political, financial, and indirect (in some cases direct) military support and guidance to the militant insurgency on the ground inside Syria, as well as the set of political stooges in exile put together to act as the “official” ‘front’ of this so-called “rebellion” while they’re being groomed to play the role of: future sham, puppet, government in a theoretical imagined post-Assad Syria.

    Based on public statements made by Obama Administration “officials”, and based on the (mis)"information" coming out of Syria which is packaged and disseminated by the lame-stream—they are juggling several potential 'pretexts' (several more than you mentioned) from what I can tell. If this moves forward, I have no doubt the “pretext” ultimately used will be the 'pretext' perceived as the as the most convenient and politically viable at the time…it’s of no real consequence—after all, it can, and most likely will, change (multiple times) after-the-fact anyway. I think it’s also important to keep in mind that all of the “pretexts” put forward to date by the Obama Administration are either pure fabrications (based on events which have not occurred in reality), or they would not exist in the first place if the US ended its proxy war against Syria. The Obama Administration is essentially arguing (in different ways and forms): direct military intervention is required to end the problems the proxy war is deliberately and methodically creating and exacerbating. This is circular…and what’s truly the important thing to realize and understand—at least about the “pretexts”.

    1. There's a name for this it's called "escalation". It's the inevitable logical flow of events when someone gets involved in a war. They begin by taking sides. Then, since losing is not an option, you continue to evolve to more extreme means to achieve victory. Even if at some point in the beginning a truce might have been acceptable, eventually total war and annihilation of the enemy becomes the only acceptable out. Then you fight to the death, with only one side left standing.
      That's the chief reason never to get involved or take sides in wars that are none of your business. It's bad enough that if some1 attacks you, you have to fight to the death. Things are far worse if you do it by choice.

    1. Bush doctrine and Obama doctrine are the same because it is not the president who makes all
      the decisions it is the Pentagon.The US has always had two governments the visible and the
      invisible government.The visible is the Elected president and his secretaries and invisible is
      today the Pentagon and the Military industries.

  5. The Bush Doctrine has its origin in Israel. According to several websites this continuous war against Israel's "enemies" was called "The Clean Break Plan"……The reason to invade Iraq was part of a report of a Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, for Bibi Nethanyahu. Former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle was the "Study Group Leader", but the final report included ideas from James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Robert Loewenberg, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser.

    The plan was prepared before GWB got elected and all those involved worked for Rumsfeld at one time.

    The plan proposed new policies:
    1. Rather than pursuing a "comprehensive peace" with the entire Arab world, Israel should work to "contain, destabilize, and roll-back" those entities that are threats.

    "SYRIA challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon,

    That Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan comprehensive peace and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction programs, and rejecting land for peace deals on the Golan Heights.

    That Israel can shape its strategic environment, by focusing on removing Saddam Hussein from power in IRAQ.— an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.

    It is said that at one time Ariel Sharon told Ehud Barak not too worry too much about America cause "WE control it."

    For an in depth review: http://www.mideastweb.org/Middle-East-Encyclopedi


    What is this horsecrap scenario 1 and scenario 2…?

    The only real scenario is the fact that the US has hired Al Queda and similar terrorist outfits to create havoc in a country that was peaceful and law abiding until it became a target for regime change…

    The fact that this so-called writer even regurgitates these science fiction “talking points” about the Syrian government supposedly using chemical weapons against its own people does nothing to advance the truth…only to lend legitimacy to this latest propaganda blitz on the part of the war criminals H. Clinton and B. Obama…

    Every time I see this kind of crap here on this website I have to wonder why on earth people continue to give money to this outfit…this kind of writing does more harm than good…by a long shot…quit feeding money to this website and maybe these “news writers” will get the can they so richly deserve…

  7. For those of us that can remember the Bush administration’s justifications for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this scenario should sound familiar.

    Well, yeah, of course it does. After all, aren't we about to start GWB's fourth term next month?

  8. No
    you are really reaching here in an attempt to play the democrats are just as bad as republicans canard that libertarians like to tout

    The Bush doctrine was that we would premptively attack a country with wmd's

    The difference is huge.
    We started the fighting in Iraq. We sent 100.000's of troops there and overthrew the goevernment
    In Syria the fighting happened on its own, it has been going on for a long time and we have sent no troops but instead passively supported rebel groups with aid

    1. Please keep your ignorance to yourself. The US has actively funneled money to violent Syrian rebels through Turkey so that Obama can start another war with a country that is not a threat to us. If you don't know that the west routinely sponsors violence in foreign nations in order to pretend its military is stepping in to restore "stability" you haven't read much history.

      The only difference is that most Americans will be dumb enough to believe Obama is doing the same things Bush did because Obama has no choice.

      Also we had been bombing Iraq throughout the 90's, culminating in 1998 when we withdrew the inspectors. Bush merely moved the ongoing war against the people of the middle east into high gear. We tried to pull the same thing as we are doing in Syria in Iraq using the Kurds but it didn't work. So instead we starve the people for ten years, poisoned them with uranium, and then blamed Bush for finally making our hideous strategy obvious.

      Both the Democrats and Republicans are trying to start a new "cold war" in Asia. Obama is proof that nothing Bush did was a "hijacking" of American foreign policy.

    2. passively supporting…? Passively?? PASSIVELY?!? Just like the "democrats not as bad as the republicans" are PASSIVELY drone-murdering people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, etcetera…….Ignore Libya, why don't you? You checked the death toll in Afghanistan lately?

      Obama is truly son of Bush. Neo-Con-Progressive. The proven evil.

    3. "you are really reaching here in an attempt to play the democrats are just as bad as republicans canard that libertarians like to tout "

      Great. Another moron who thinks that somehow the parties are different. It's not a lie you dimwit. Get your head out of your ass and start thinking for a change.

    1. But of course. Just as it's "OK" for the "right" people to invade foreign countries without just provocation because they're the "right" people. Just like it's "OK" for the "right" people to slaughter innocent women and children in said foreign countries because … well, because they're just goddamned foreigners. Just like it's "OK" for the "right" people to do whatever the hell they want to do to whomever the hell they want for whatever goddamned reason (or for no goddamned reason at all) – because they're the "right" people. After all, the "right" people have decreed it to be so.

  9. There really needs to be a reliable, consistent counter-news source who has the confidence and trust of US victim nations to get the straight scoop from their point of view. S?E

  10. hat communities divert law enforcement resources from violent crimes to illegal drug offenses, the risk of punishment for engaging i

  11. you get drunk in Riyadh. You don't get a great job at an influence mill with that on your résumé. You do if Ambassador to Saudi Arabia means what doing the "important work" needed under current polic

  12. t a great job at an influence mill with that on your résumé. You do if Ambassador to Saudi Arabia means what doing the "important work" needed under current polic

  13. your résumé. You do if Ambassador to Saudi Arabia means what doing the "important work" needed under current policies

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