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Slouching Toward Damascus

As the Syr­ian civil war slouches toward its bru­tal end, it’s time to take stock of one of the most sig­nif­i­cant diplo­matic and mil­i­tary fail­ures in my lifetime.

More than 200,000 civil­ians have died, includ­ing more than 25,000 chil­dren, and many more have been crit­i­cally injured.

Six mil­lion refugees have cre­ated havoc in Europe and the Mid­dle East.

For the first time in more than two decades, Rus­sia has a sig­nif­i­cant strong­hold in the Mid­dle East.

Shias have cut a swath of reli­gious intol­er­ance through Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Much of the blame can be placed at the foot of the Obama admin­is­tra­tion, which ignored the poten­tial impact of the war that began dur­ing the Arab upris­ing of 2011.

In 2014, Pres­i­dent Obama invited over a dozen lead­ers from both par­ties to the White House to talk about for­eign pol­icy. Obama became vis­i­bly agi­tated when con­fronted by bipar­ti­san crit­i­cism of the White House’s pol­icy of delay­ing Syr­ian rebels’ repeated requests for arms to fight the Assad régime.

The pres­i­dent defended his administration’s actions on Syria, say­ing that the notion that many have put forth regard­ing arm­ing the rebels ear­lier would have led to bet­ter out­comes in Syria was “horse shit.”

Dur­ing the civil war, the self-​proclaimed Islamic State gained a sig­nif­i­cant foothold in Syria. Obama once referred to ISIS as the “junior var­sity.” It’s a com­ment he prob­a­bly would pre­fer to take back, but he did lit­tle to root out ISIS, too.

Note: ISIS, which is Sunni, also fought the Assad régime, which is related to the Shia sect, for its own vicious rea­sons, includ­ing the impor­tance of a piece of real estate to train terrorists.

It took Pres­i­dent Trump to defeat ISIS in Syria because Obama couldn’t fig­ure out what to do about Assad and/​or ISIS.

As a reporter for ABC News and Newsweek, I spent a lot of time in Syria. Although a bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ship ruled the coun­try, I trav­eled to many his­toric spots, such as Palmyra, which ISIS tried to destroy. The mar­ket in Dam­as­cus, Al-​Hamidiyah Suq, was one of my favorite haunts as were the road where St. Paul found God and the Umayyad Mosque, which then-​Pope John Paul II vis­ited dur­ing a Mid­dle East­ern trip.

I remem­ber a visit to Lebanon in 2011, where I spoke on a panel with promi­nent reporters from The Wash­ing­ton Post and NPR.

I argued that the United States faced an impor­tant deci­sion in Syria. I said that the U.S. needed to pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant aid, includ­ing Amer­i­can boots on the ground. The other reporters, voic­ing the con­ven­tional wis­dom of the swamp, said my posi­tion was over the top, although the mainly Lebanese audi­ence agreed with me.

At a time when the media seem pre­oc­cu­pied with myr­iad issues, Syria, unfor­tu­nately, has dropped off their radar when we should look crit­i­cally at what went wrong and what lies ahead.

As the Syrian civil war slouches toward its brutal end, it’s time to take stock of one of the most significant diplomatic and military failures in my lifetime.

More than 200,000 civilians have died, including more than 25,000 children, and many more have been critically injured.

Six million refugees have created havoc in Europe and the Middle East.

For the first time in more than two decades, Russia has a significant stronghold in the Middle East.

Shias have cut a swath of religious intolerance through Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Much of the blame can be placed at the foot of the Obama administration, which ignored the potential impact of the war that began during the Arab uprising of 2011.

In 2014, President Obama invited over a dozen  leaders from both parties to the White House to talk about foreign policy. Obama became visibly agitated when confronted by bipartisan criticism of the White House’s policy of delaying Syrian rebels’ repeated requests for arms to fight the Assad regime.

The president defended his administration’s actions on Syria, saying that the notion that many have put forth regarding arming the rebels earlier would have led to better outcomes in Syria was “horse shit.”

During the civil war, the self-proclaimed Islamic State gained a significant foothold in Syria. Obama once referred to ISIS as the “junior varsity.” It’s a comment he probably would prefer to take back, but he did little to root out ISIS, too.

Note: ISIS, which is Sunni, also fought the Assad regime, which is related to the Shia sect, for its own vicious reasons, including the importance of a piece of real estate to train terrorists.

It took President Trump to defeat ISIS in Syria because Obama couldn’t figure out what to do about Assad and/or ISIS.

As a reporter for ABC News and Newsweek, I spent a lot of time in Syria. Although a brutal dictatorship ruled the country, I traveled to many historic spots, such as Palmyra, which ISIS tried to destroy. The market in Damascus, Al-Hamidiyah Suq, was one of my favorite haunts as were the road where St. Paul found God and the Umayyad Mosque, which then-Pope John Paul II visited during a Middle Eastern trip.

I remember a visit to Lebanon in 2011, where I spoke on a panel with prominent reporters from The Washington Post and NPR.

I argued that the United States faced an important decision in Syria. I said that the U.S. needed to provide significant aid, including American boots on the ground. The other reporters, voicing the conventional wisdom of the swamp, said my position was over the top, although the mainly Lebanese audience agreed with me.

At a time when the media seem preoccupied with myriad issues, Syria, unfortunately, has dropped off their radar when we should look critically at what went wrong and what lies ahead.