The people most upset with President Obama on Syria are those hawks that have wanted him to do much more, and so they blame him for the actions that other states and groups have taken when he has no control over what these other actors do. Meanwhile, when the Obama administration directly and actively participates in creating one of the gravest humanitarian crises of this century, as it has in Yemen, the same people that berate him over Syria have nothing to say about that. Obama’s sin of commission in Yemen is clearly more blameworthy than his “failure” in Syria, not least because the former is indefensible, and yet he usually gets a pass on the one while being excoriated for the other. The point here is not just that Obama has been let off the hook for a terrible decision to back the Saudi-led war on Yemen, but that our foreign policy pundits and professionals are much more willing to blame a president for the consequences of so-called “inaction” than they are willing to hold him accountable for the things that he actually does.
The example of Yemen’s exacerbated suffering should also make us wary of claims that the U.S. could have somehow forced an end to the civil war in Syria without causing even more harm. Outside intervention in Yemen obviously hasn’t hastened the end of conflict there, but instead propped up the weaker side while significantly escalating the war at enormous cost to the civilian population. The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led intervention made the existing conflict much worse and inflicted far more destruction on the country than would have otherwise happened. As terrible as Syria’s civil war has been, there is just as much reason to believe that direct intervention by the U.S. and its allies would have caused far more destruction and more loss of life to the detriment of the people of Syria.
Photo by Julien Harneis