Aleppo fall caps legacy of Obama doc­trine

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

The fall of the rebel-held Syr­ian city of Aleppo to Rus­sian- and Ira­nian-backed forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad sounds the death knell for the out­go­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hand­soff coun­tert­er­ror­ism doc­trine, an­a­lysts say.

The fi­nal batches of an­tiAs­sad fight­ers va­cated for­merly rebel-held ar­eas of eastern Aleppo on Fri­day, of­fi­cially bring­ing the city — which was Syria’s eco­nomic and cul­tural hub be­fore the war — un­der the regime’s con­trol.

The fall of Aleppo was the big­gest vic­tory for government forces and their Rus­sian and Ira­nian sup­port­ers since mod­er­ate rebel groups, em­bold­ened by

re­gional up­ris­ings tied to the 2011 Arab Spring, at­tempted to over­throw the As­sad regime and ig­nited the war six years ago.

But the fall was also a piv­otal mo­ment for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, whose ini­tial in­tractable stance against the As­sad regime was trans­lated into an in­de­ci­sive pol­icy aimed at de­feat­ing or sidelin­ing Amer­ica’s ad­ver­saries from a dis­tance.

“There is no doubt [Pres­i­dent Obama] will be ham­mered in his­tor­i­cal terms. The ques­tion will be why he didn’t do more,” Aaron David Miller, a for­mer pres­i­den­tial ad­viser on Mid­dle East af­fairs, told Reuters.

Mr. Obama’s in­fa­mous “red line” warn­ing in 2012 against Syria’s use of chem­i­cal weapons against rebel forces pushed Wash­ing­ton and Da­m­as­cus onto a col­li­sion course, with U.S. war­ships an­chored off of the Syr­ian coast ready to launch mis­siles on government tar­gets.

In the end, the White House held its fire and a the U.S. and Russia bro­kered a dis­ar­ma­ment plan to re­move Mr. As­sad’s chem­i­cal stock­piles.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials hailed the deal as a diplo­matic break­through. White House crit­ics, in­clud­ing Don­ald Trump, char­ac­ter­ized the move as a sign of U.S. weak­ness in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to the rip­ple ef­fects of the Arab Spring, which ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of the Mid­dle East and North Africa, was tan­ta­mount to “a pol­icy of cal­cu­lated dither­ing,” said one top re­gional an­a­lyst.

Mr. Obama and his na­tional se­cu­rity staff “just ag­o­nized over the [pol­icy] choices un­til they no longer ex­isted” in Syria, Ye­men and Libya, Emile Hokayem, a se­nior fel­low at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies, told the Reuters news agency.

Even as the Rus­sian-bro­kered chem­i­cal dis­ar­ma­ment plan pro­gressed, the White House em­barked on clan­des­tine ef­forts to train and arm mod­er­ate fac­tions of the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion.

The U.S. train­ing mis­sion in Syria, as well as ef­forts as­sist lo­cal forces in Ye­men and Libya, were the main un­der­pin­nings of Mr. Obama’s counter-ex­trem­ist strat­egy.

Heavy re­liance on lo­cal armies and para­mil­i­tary groups, trained and armed by small U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions teams and backed by Amer­i­can sur­veil­lance drones and air power, has been the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s modus operandi in bat­tling al Qaeda, the Is­lamic State and other ter­ror­ist groups world­wide.

Early into Mr. Obama’s sec­ond term, ini­tial re­ports on U.S. in­volve­ment in Libya and Syria were chal­leng­ing but trending pos­i­tive. The ad­min­is­tra­tion held up the Amer­i­can coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sion against al Qaeda’s Ye­meni cell, deeply rooted in sup­port for lo­cal forces and of­fen­sive drone strikes, as the stan­dard-bearer for the White House’s strat­egy.

But af­ter Mr. Obama’s in­ac­tion in Syria, the strat­egy showed signs of crack­ing. Syria and Libya train­ing mis­sions were can­celed af­ter the mil­lions of dol­lars in­vested yielded only a few hun­dred fight­ers.

The mul­ti­ple pro­grams led by the U.S. mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity fell flat, and ter­ror­ist groups such as al Qaeda and the Is­lamic State rushed in to fill the vac­uum.

The Ye­meni mis­sion de­railed af­ter the 2015 ouster of Pres­i­dent Abed Rabbo Man­sour Hadi. Since then, government fac­tions loyal to the de­posed regime, sup­ported by sev­eral Gulf states, have been bat­tling Iran-backed Houthi forces for con­trol.

U.S. and Bri­tish forces have backed Saudi Ara­bia’s role in the pro-government forces fight­ing in Ye­men. But Wash­ing­ton pared back its sup­port of Saudi forces this month af­ter Bri­tish De­fense Min­is­ter Michael Fal­lon ac­knowl­edged the Saudis’ use of clus­ter bombs, which are banned by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Mr. Obama, who vowed to reach out to the Arab world when he was elected, is spend­ing his fi­nal days in of­fice largely out of sync with the tu­mul­tuous re­gion.

“Gulf Arabs have looked to Amer­ica and its al­lies for pro­tec­tion in the Mid­dle East. But the re­gion ap­pears to be ‘Amer­ica-less’ in the wan­ing days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said Theodore Karasik, a se­nior ad­viser to the Dubai-based Gulf State An­a­lyt­ics re­gional con­sul­tancy group.

“The Obama legacy is tar­nished,” Mr. Karasik said in an op-ed for Al Ara­biya news.

But Mr. Karasik said the Obama legacy did have one bright spot: The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy of lean­ing on in­dige­nous forces rather than putting U.S. boots on the ground em­pow­ered Arab na­tions against the threat of ex­trem­ism.

The Obama doc­trine em­bold­ened Gulf al­lies “to step out on their own by forc­ing them to de­fend them­selves from state and non-state threats,” he said.

“To be sure, [Gulf] states need Amer­i­can mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy and sup­port, but po­lit­i­cally the tide can con­tinue to where [these] states stand up for them­selves and fight their own re­gional bat­tles based on their own re­alpoli­tik,” Mr. Karasik said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

STAK­ING CLAIM: Syr­ian troops brought Aleppo un­der the con­trol of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad on Fri­day by driv­ing out the last rebels.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

In­mates ques­tioned in­de­pen­dently by hu­man rights work­ers cor­rob­o­rated ac­counts of tor­ture from a government dis­si­dent in a re­mote Rus­sian prison.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ye­meni Pres­i­dent Abed Rabbo Man­sour Hadi was ousted in 2015 af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s muchtouted mis­sion against the lo­cal al Qaeda cell.

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