Fareed Zakaria: Obama’s Handling of Syria ‘Case Study in How Not To Do Foreign Policy’

In 2011, CNN's Fareed Zakaria revealed that he advised President Obama on foreign policy.

On his GPS program Sunday, Zakaria lambasted the current White House resident saying, "[T]he administration's handling of Syria over the last year has been a case study in how not to do foreign policy...the manner in which the Obama administration has first created and then mismanaged this crisis will cast a long shadow on America’s role in the world" (video follows with transcript and commentary):

FAREED ZAKARIA: Last March, President Obama spoke off-the- cuff about how Syria’s use of chemical weapons would be a game changer. It has turned out to be, except not quite in the sense that he meant. It's been an event that has confused and confounded the Obama administration. Whatever your views on the larger issues, it's hard not to conclude that the administration's handling of Syria over the last year has been a case study in how not to do foreign policy.

The President started out with an understanding that the Syrian conflict is a messy sectarian struggle that cannot be influenced easily by American military intervention. He was disciplined in resisting calls to jump into a cauldron. But from the start, he confused and undermined this policy with loose rhetoric, perhaps egged on by some of his advisers and critics to do something.

So he announced just over two years ago that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had to go. Now a pundit can engage in grandiose rhetoric. The President of the United States should make declarations like that only if he has a strategy to actually achieve it. He did not.


In truth, Obama and many others miscalculated. They believed that Assad's regime was near the end, misreading both its strength and brutality, but also the level of support it has from several segments of Syrian society.

Then, just about a year ago, came the off-the-cuff remarks about a red line on chemical weapons, insufficiently thought through but now publicly stated and definitive. Since then, American foreign policy towards Syria has largely been concerned about ensuring that Obama’s threat does not seem empty.

After all, what American national interest is being followed? The administration says it is upholding international law. Except, as Fred Kaplan points out, the institutions that embody international law and consensus - the United Nations and other international organizations - do not support this action. The United States plus France and Turkey cannot be considered the embodiment of international law and global public opinion.

The nature of the strike we are told will be short and symbolic - a shot across the bow in the midst of a civil war in which both sides are in a high-stakes struggle for survival, does anyone think this will make any difference?

And then the strangest twist - an unplanned last-minute appeal to Congress, paving the way for further delay, weakening momentum, erasing what little surprise existed, and setting the stage for a potential defeat at home.

I don't think that this strike, should it eventually take place, will be as damaging as its critics fear. The Assad regime will likely hunker down, take it, and move on. It will make little difference one way or the other. But the manner in which the Obama administration has first created and then mismanaged this crisis will cast a long shadow on America’s role in the world. That's my view.


Let's be clear: Zakaria is no Walter Cronkite.

However, he's been a staunch supporter of this president from day one, and his criticism Sunday is significant.

It is therefore going to be very interesting to see if other CNN anchors and commentators will share his view on the air, or if he will be the President's lone critic on the self-proclaimed "most trusted name in news."

Stay tuned.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.