A number of words and terms can be used to characterize President Obama’s policy toward both Syria and the Islamic State. Charitably: evolving; less so: tentative, hesitant, undecided, in a state of flux.
In a National Interest article titled Choosing Not to Choose: Obama’s Dithering on Syria, Paul Saunders provides some reasons why. Among them:
… the president’s defensive approach to foreign policy. On too many issues, President Obama seems primarily motivated by what he wants to avoid rather than what he wants to achieve.
… Obama does not intuitively understand the exercise of power—not just how and when to use it, but its foundations, its psychology and its consequences. The result of these three factors is a “none-of-the-above” policy assembled from the shards of discarded options.
Despite his caution, Obama retains ambitious top-level goals—removing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, destroying ISIL and stabilizing Syria.
Then Saunders lowers the hammer.
Unfortunately, the tension between these grand ends and a limited, incoherent effort to achieve them appears to escape the president’s notice.
Among his suggestions:
… to contain Syria’s civil war without trying to fix it. This would have meant providing substantial support to Syria’s immediate neighbors—Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel—to prevent the conflict from spilling over into their territory and to assist them in housing and caring for refugees. It would also have meant strengthening intelligence cooperation to thwart terrorist attacks outside Syria.
Taking into account that America’s allies would face obvious challenges in removing Assad without significant U.S. military assistance, and that this would lead to a longer war, such a strategy would have been a logical course to adopt if the administration was unwilling to offer sufficient military support to its regional friends.
While containment isn’t always ordained, if deemed, has generally been a wiser option than intervention.