Friday, October 25, 2019

Seriously Thinking about Syria

Earlier this week, June and I had the privilege of hearing Susan Rice interviewed in Kansas City. As many of you will remember, she was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation from 2009 to 2013 and then the U.S. National Security Advisor from 2013 until 2017. 
Susan Rice speaking in
Kansas City on Oct. 22
Rice’s Tough Love
Susan Rice (b. 1964) was in Kansas City largely to promote her new book Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For (which I frugally checked out of the library rather than purchasing for $30).
Although the entire book would certainly be worth reading, to this point I have only read the Prologue, the encouraging last chapter titled “Bridging the Divide,” and the parts on Syria (primarily pages 362~9). It is mainly the latter that I am referring to in this article.
DJT’s Position on Syria
Back in April 2017, a few days after the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles on western Syria, I posted a blog article titled “A ‘Syrious’ Matter” (and was told by a Thinking Friend that “it's probably best not to use a pun in the title”).
I did have serious doubts about the wisdom of that missile attack. Fortunately, though, it did not lead to the dire consequences I feared it might. Then in a tweet last week (on 10/20), DJT touted his action against Syria: “I did something, 58 missiles.” (The news reports all gave the number as 59, but why quibble over a missile or two?)
In that same tweet, DJT wrote, “Pelosi is now leading a delegation of 9 . . . to Jordan to check out Syria. She should find out why Obama drew The Red Line in the Sand, & then did NOTHING, LOSING Syria & all respect. . . . One million died under Obama’s mistake!”
Two days earlier, DJT tweeted: “Susan Rice, who was a disaster to President Obama as National Security Advisor, is now telling us her opinion on what to do in Syria. Remember RED LINE IN THE SAND?” That was Obama. Millions killed! No thanks Susan, you were a disaster.”
But last December, DJT suddenly announced that he was withdrawing all U.S. military forces from Syria. The situation there is still in considerable flux, but it seems that DJT’s startling announcement is of considerable benefit to Syrian President Assad—and to Russian President Putin.
Clearly that announcement, sadly, means manifest danger to the Kurds.
Rice’s Position on Syria
When President Obama announced in August 2013 his decision not to take action against Syria—despite what he had said about a red line—his National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, disagreed, the lone dissenter among Obama’s closest advisors.
In her book, though, Rice admits, “Without the use of force, we ultimately achieved a better outcome than I had imagined” (p. 365). And then despite her initial position, she concludes, “I believe we were correct not to become more deeply involved militarily in Syria” (p. 369).
Even though Obama then, and up until now, has been repeatedly criticized for not acting on his “red line” position, I thought then and even more so now that he was correct—and I was happy to hear Rice came to that same conclusion.
But DJT’s recent tweets are ludicrous. Millions were certainly not killed because the U.S. did not use military force against Syria, force that could have led to major military conflict with Russia. There is no evidence that Obama made a mistake by his lack of action.
On the other hand, it now seems clear that DJT has made a major mistake in removing U.S. troops from northeastern Syria--and Susan Rice’s serious thinking and recent remarks about Syria are far superior to those of the current President.


  1. Depending on our personal worldview, each President makes serious blunders. Some Presidents make more than their share. Each President usually does their share of good. This is a good reminder to pray for not only our President, but also for the others in leadership (including outside of politics) who represent us - whether we like them or not. My daily prayer for the past few Presidents has been the same, "God save the President."

    We also need to pray for those being persecuted - especially those of the household of faith in Christ. ن

    1. Yes, I think it is certainly true that every President "makes serious blunders." But I also think it is indisputable that those blunders are not all of equal seriousness. For example, I cannot in any way think that Obama's "blunder" of not bombing Syria when Assad crossed the "red line in the sand" is equal to Bush II's blunder of starting the preemptive war against Iraq.

      And now, speaking of "those of the household of faith in Christ," DJT's blunder of removing protection for the Kurds is resulting in many of them, including many Christians, becoming refugees and some of them being killed by the Turks.

      No, blunders are not created equal.

  2. My heart grieves over the current genocide which is occurring in Syria as the death tole rises.

    Presidents and their advisers have no way of knowing what their decisions will eventually lead to. However, as a pacifist, I resent politicians making light of the current situation.

    There is no excuse for blaming or inferring that one administration is better than another. The current administration is responsible for today’s loss of life. Rather than attack the past it would be helpful to focus on the mitigation of the escalating conflict.

    The Kurds continue to be people that the world views as disposable. Again, American politicians only respond when pleasure or prosperity are threatened. The Kurds offer neither, so they become expendable. I wonder what history will say about DJT and his less than compassionate tweets about the suffering and inhumanity being experienced by the Kurds?

    1. Frank, thanks for sharing your important views and dealing directly with the current situation in Syria. I think your last paragraph is a significant one.

      And while I agree about the uselessness of blaming or attacking the past, I disagree, along the lines I wrote in my response to the previous comments, that there is "no excuse . . . inferring that one administration is better than another." In thinking only about the Middle East, I think there is every reason to assert that Obama's position was superior to that of either Bush before him or DJT after him.

    2. Thanks for the push back!
      I agree totally with your final statements. The issue is DJT attempts to divert the issue to an argument that sidetracks his failure. We can learn from others and history. Or, we can use it to interpret or own failure or success. Either way DJT does not accept the reality that he is responsible for the deaths of all Kurds, Turks, and Christians who are victims of his reckless policy.

  3. Before 7:30 this morning, Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago shared the following comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your observations about Syria and Susan Rice. Regardless of whether or not President Obama had pursued the correct approach in Syria, our top priority should be an end to the fighting and the killing. This may involve having to hold our noses by negotiating with Bashar Assad, who is clearly guilty of war crimes, but who is also not going away, at least not while he has Russian support."

    1. [corrected from what was posted yesterday afternoon]

      Eric, I fully agree with what you say our "top priority" should be. But exactly how the U.S. and the world community can end the fighting and the killing in the Middle East is a perplexing problem. I got the impression that Susan Rice didn't know how that could be done when she was the National Security Advisor--and that she still doesn't know how that can be done. But who does? I certainly doubt that turning over the future of Syria to Assad and Putin is the solution to the problem.

  4. About two hours ago, a Thinking Friend who is now again living in California, made this brief comment:

    "Interesting how our GOD is still in control regardless what our politicians decide."

    1. Yes, in a general sense, looking at the full sweep of history, I can affirm that "GOD is still in control." But I am not sure what that means in the short term and for right now. Certainly the majority of the Kurds, including probably most Kurdish Christians, would have a hard time of agreeing right now that God is in control of the tough situation they find themselves in.

  5. And then I received these comments from local Thinking Friend Temp Sparkman:
    "Leroy, I heard Rice twice and agree with her that Obama made the right decision on Syria. And with you, that Trump made the wrong choice. The former president made his decision with deliberation, the latter, with his usual ignoring of his advisors."

  6. According to Rice, a major factor in Obama's decision not to bomb Syria was his belief that such action should be decided by Congress and not be just his decision. I think that was a wise perspective, and one of the criticisms I had about DJT launching the missile attack back in April 2017 was that he did it without any congressional approval. And that is certainly true, it seems, with regard to his sudden announcement about the withdrawal of American troops from Syria.

  7. Yesterday evening, rather than (or while?) watching the World Series game, Thinking Friend Michael Olmsted in Springfield, Mo., shared the following comments:

    "As the son of an American soldier and the descendent of several ancestors who served this country all the way back to the American Revolution, I grieve at the shameful actions and words of the current White House occupant who obviously cares only for himself and has no ethical or Christian standards. God have mercy on us!

    "Where are those brave men and women who will lead us back to the true distinctives and courage of our past? May God give us the strength and faith to change the direction of our country."

    1. Thanks, Michael, for your pertinent comments.

  8. As Americans, we are prone to "silver bullet" solutions. We even reified the silver bullet into a TV show, The Lone Ranger. Every week he and his faithful friend Tonto solved a problem with a silver bullet. Then some of us grew up and discovered the world rarely worked that way. Not that we did not try, as when American tanks left Iraq littered with spent-uranium bullets. We are not better at strategic contextualization than we are at theological contextualization (thanks for the last blog, too).

    Trump and Turkey obviously set up the betrayal of the Kurds some time ago. First the Kurds had to give up some strategic land in western Syria. Then they had to pull back heavy weapons and soldiers behind lines to be patrolled jointly by Turkey and USA. Once that was in place, and only then, Trump surprised the Kurds and even the US military by announcing an immediate pullback of USA troops, and allowing Turkish incursion into a twenty mile buffer zone. Trump announced that he would impose massive sanctions on Turkey "if they went to far" but he stood aside for the primary invasion. I guess his new slogan is "Make the Ottoman Empire Great Again!" Or was this just a round-about way of making Putin win again? What happened to the Kurds was not a mistake. It was a pre-meditated betrayal. Who knows what the endgame will be?

    1. DJT's position on the Kurds is beyond my ability to understand. It certainly seemed as though there was a premeditated betrayal as you wrote--but then the Kurds seem to have been helpfully involved in DJT's great triumph in eliminating al-Baghdadi. How in the world can he betray them while at the same time benefiting from their ongoing fight against ISIS?