October 24, 2012 | New York Daily News

Two ‘Leaders’ Let the Blood Flow

We must do more to oust Assad
October 24, 2012 | New York Daily News

Two ‘Leaders’ Let the Blood Flow

We must do more to oust Assad

Describing his opponent’s position on Syria in Monday night’s third and final presidential debate, President Obama said that Mitt Romney “doesn’t have different ideas.”

That’s a largely accurate analysis, and an unfortunate one, as it speaks to the fact that neither candidate is willing to do what’s necessary to achieve American interests in the Middle East.

The Republican challenger does have significant differences with the President on foreign policy, but he did not do much to illuminate them. On topics ranging from Iraq to Afghanistan to Iran, the former Massachusetts governor distinguished himself by striking a more strident tone, rather than faulting Obama on substance.

Romney was effective at critiquing the President’s mistakes, yet he backed away from offering specifics on how he would lead differently.

And it is Syria — embroiled in an uprising-turned-civil war that began a year and a half ago — that cries out for different leadership from the U.S.

Since the regime detained a group of boys for scrawling anti-regime graffiti in February 2011, some 30,000 Syrians have died; 3 million have become refugees.

In August 2011, Obama declared that Syrian President Bashar Assad should “step aside.” More than a year later, he remains in power, killing more and more of his fellow Syrians with each passing day.

Romney, who says that America’s “objective” should be “to replace Assad,” proposes next to nothing in the way of achieving that goal. Criticizing the administration for its neglect of “American leadership,” he went on to say that the U.S. “should have taken a leading role — not militarily, but a leading role organizationally.”

But this is precisely what the Obama administration has done — primarily, by supporting the formation of the exile Syrian National Council — and to little effect.

Meanwhile, both Romney and Obama oppose the most meaningful, basic step that could be taken to help the opposition: the establishment of a no-fly zone in the north of the country to provide a safe area for Syrians fleeing Assad’s violence, a tactic that the U.S. used to save civilian lives in Bosnia, Kosovo and, most recently, Libya.

Obama said Monday night that the violence in Syria is “heartbreaking,” but that we should not get “entangled militarily.”

He has failed to delineate what his rationale was for intervening in Libya — a mission for which he has repeatedly claimed personal credit — while letting Syria fester.

Libya is on the periphery, both geographically and strategically, of the Middle East. A dictator with, as the President correctly pointed out, much American blood on his hands, Moammar Khadafy was far less of a nuisance to the U.S. than Assad — Iran’s sole Arab ally and a leading sponsor of terrorism against American soldiers in Iraq.

While America stays out of Syria, Assad’s war machine spreads violence across the region. In recent weeks, the regime has fired mortar shells into neighboring Turkey, an American ally and NATO member that has hosted Syrian rebels and refugees. Such an attack is an attack on the U.S. and the entire military alliance — at least according to the NATO charter.

Last week, a car bomb took the life of Lebanese intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan, whose investigations into Syrian-backed terror put a target on his back.

The killing marks an end to the relative calm that Lebanon has enjoyed in recent years, as it now falls victim to the violence unleashed by the regime next door.

Even the University of Oklahoma’s Josh Landis, a Syria expert and, until now, Assad’s most prominent apologist in the U.S., has come out in favor of limited American military intervention, supporting the supply of heat-seeking missiles to the rebels.

“As soon as the elections are over in the U.S., Washington should redouble its efforts at changing the balance of power in Syria, if Assad does not begin to form a transitional government in earnest,” he wrote in an online column.

Romney has vaguely called for arming the Syrian rebels, but that will not be enough.

Americans are understandably war-weary. Romney grasps this, which is why it is difficult for him to criticize the President without sounding bellicose.

The President also understands this, which is why he frames any disagreement with his foreign policy as warmongering. But the war in Syria has been raging for well over a year. Our enemies are fighting it. Unfortunately, neither candidate has explained why America won’t stand behind its friends.

Kirchick is a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.