WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an embattled despot hell bent on retaining power at any cost, ready to murder and maim his own citizens with chemical weapons and never blink.
A week-long ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia took effect Monday evening at sundown, but similar agreements have been breached in the past.
The Syrian civil war death toll now tops 470,000, according to some estimates.
Assad faces a four-headed cyclops of opposition: internal rebel forces fighting to overthrow his government, everyday Syrians resisting his authoritarianism, Islamic State terrorists annexing his land and international entities, like the United States, agitating for his ouster.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would like to make the U.S. an even bigger thorn in Assad’s bloody side.
It’s not that the Syrian regime has had an easy go of it under President Barack Obama’s leadership, but Clinton argues more could and should be done.
Assad’s regime looked close to implosion a few years ago, but now appears to be on much firmer footing.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin rushed to Assad’s aid, decimating rebel holdouts with his country’s superior air power under the guise of bombing ISIS targets.
Mr. Obama famously called for Assad to resign in 2011; obviously, he didn’t.
The quandary faced by Mr. Obama: focus on deposing the murderous Assad or destroy the bloodthirsty, headline-grabbing ISIS?
ISIS won the day, along with much of the territory officially held by Syria and Iraq.
Part of the president’s choice to prioritize ISIS seemed to stem from Americans’ loud demands for the terror group’s total annihilation as it grew in strength and notoriety in 2014.
Another major concern was the wisdom of sacking another Middle Eastern strongman, creating a power vacuum to be filled by radical groups, as seen in Libya and Egypt.
That’s not to say Mr. Obama’s administration ignored Assad.
His team cobbled together an international coalition to target ISIS strongholds in Syria.
America also, eventually, began to train and equip anti-Assad rebel forces.
The train-and-equip program turned out to be a money pit. American taxpayers spent $50 million on training a total of “four or five” rebels; an embarrassment leading to the initiative’s demise.
We now know that Clinton, during her final years as secretary of state, was privately pushing Mr. Obama to be more aggressive in assisting moderate Syrian rebels from the beginning of the civil war, but he resisted taking such an overt interventional step.
Obama thinks, Clinton acts
By nature, Clinton is more adventuresome in her approach to international affairs. She was one of the loudest voices supporting the removal of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya — a move that turned out to be disastrous.
Clinton is a true believer in American exceptionalism and its attending displays of power.
She insists that leaders need to “get over the false choice of either going after Assad or going after ISIS,” telling Charlie Rose of CBS News that Russians would be instrumental in paving the way for her two-pronged Syria solution.
Going forward, Clinton advocates for an internationally enforced no-fly zone over Syria.
It’s a muscular move that would clip the wings of Assad’s deadly air force and could very well provoke an explosive firefight.
The no-fly zone pitch has many detractors, including some within the Clinton camp and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), but the possibility of a such an altercation doesn’t rattle America’s former top diplomat.
When asked if she’s concerned that American forces could face the prospect of shooting down Russian planes in Syrian skies, Clinton told Rose, “That won’t happen.”
Still, Hillary Clinton is far from a swashbuckling international crusader, dismissing a large deployment of combat troops to Syria “a non-starter.”
She’s more predictable and pragmatic than, say, Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Her diplomatic and militaristic constitution lies somewhere between George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Should she win the presidency, Clinton’s placement of red lines and her willingness to enforce them remain to be seen.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales