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Syria and the Rise of Radical Islam

The situation over the use of chemical weapons in Syria has escalated. The United States' use of military force is no longer a question of “if” and more like “when.”

Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement just as the show was getting underway. Kerry referred to the use of chemical weapons as “a moral obscenity.” He also called out countries like Russia for trying to cover up the fact that chemical weapons were used – A fact that Kerry referred to as “undeniable.”

As a result, the United States seems to be preparing for limited cruise missile strikes. Reports indicate that these strikes could happen as soon as this Thursday. It appears that the goal of this strike would not be to take out Assad, but to send a message that his use of chemical weapons and defiance of the West is unacceptable.

This approach of limited cruise missile strikes has been referred to by some as nothing more than “therapeutic bombing.” This is because it doesn't really set out to accomplish much other than making us feel good about about doing something. Some people like Charles Krauthammer are of the opinion that this limited strike approach is “worse than useless.”

The fact remains that this administration continues to lack a clear, coherent strategy in this region of the world. Apparently it has decided that in the case of Syria, our goal is to simply ruffle Assad's feathers, but his “morally obscene” act of using chemical weapons isn't obscene enough to warrant further action. Keep in mind that over 100,000 have been killed by the Assad regime and over a million refugees have fled the country.

The problem in Syria is that there really is no good alternative. The rebel groups fighting the Assad regime are aligned with al Qaeda, so whatever faction could potentially topple the regime and gain power in Syria has the potential to be a radical, jihadist group that could potentially gain access to existing chemical weapons or the resources and capability to build more chemical weapons.

While a vast majority of Americans do not want military intervention in Syria, based on the latest Reuters polling, one has to consider that the issue is Syria isn't just about Syria. As former Ambassador John Bolton has pointed, the real issue in Syria has to do with Iran. Iran (along with Russia) is waging its version of a proxy war in Syria, providing funding and weapons to Assad. Any action in Syria can be taken as a veiled threat against Iran. But also, inaction could indicate that the world is not serious about the larger looming threat of a nuclear-capable Iran.

Syria's foreign minister is warning that it will defend itself using "all means available" if the United States decides to strike. Iran has responded as well. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi, says: "We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region. These complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region." Russia and China are also warning of "catastrophic consequences" for the region if military action is taken.

Whether it be Obama's lack of strategy or his woeful naivete, the fact is that Obama has completely blown it when it comes to the Middle East. It will be difficult to see how Obama gains credibility not matter what he decides to do about Syria. He blew it in Egypt, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and now failing to support the Egyptian people. He blew it in Iran when he failed to support the Green Revolution. Mali, Libya, Afghanistan, Turkey … what we are witnessing is the decline of U.S. influence in the region and the rise of radical Islam. We've shown our allies that we are not to be trusted and our enemies that they have little to fear. Thusly, the United States has lost credibility and a power vacuum is emboldening the worst kind of players imaginable to future stability and peace in the region and throughout the world.

Walter Russell Mead, writing in the Wall Street Journal, explains this power vacuum we are currently witnessing in Syria and the far-reaching implications:

“If American policy in Syria has been a boon to the Russians and Iranians, it has been a godsend to the terrorists. The prolongation of the war has allowed terrorist and radical groups to establish themselves as leaders in the Sunni fight against the Shiite enemy. A reputation badly tarnished by both their atrocities and their defeat in Iraq has been polished and enhanced by what is seen as their courage and idealism in Syria. The financial links between wealthy sources in the Gulf and jihadi fighter groups, largely sundered in the last 10 years, have been rebuilt and strengthened. Thousands of radicals are being trained and indoctrinated, to return later to their home countries with new skills, new ideas and new contacts. This development in Syria looks much more dangerous than the development of the original mujahedeen in Afghanistan; Afghanistan is a remote and (most Middle Easterners believe) a barbarous place. Syria is in the heart of the region and the jihadi spillover threatens to be catastrophic.”

That is what happens when America fails to lead. We will look through the prism of history and recognize how dangerous this period of history truly was … and we will see that America, led by a weak president, did little to stop it.