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The Boston Globe


opinion | alan berger

The ‘let-it-burn’ strategy in Syria

Obama’s statecraft may be a calculated, Machiavellian approach

Critics who complain that President Obama’s decision to provide small arms to select elements of the Syrian resistance does not go far enough and others who fret that he could be leading this country toward yet one more disastrous war in a Muslim land share a common assumption: They view his approach to the Syrian conflagration not as the deliberate pursuit of a strategy in the national interest but as a refusal to make hard choices. Administration officials reinforce this impression when they warn, with equal doses of anxiety, about the danger of leaping into the Syrian maelstrom and about the risk of allowing the war to continue unabated.

But there is another reading of Obama’s apparent passivity that ought to be considered. If one assumes that Obama knows what he is doing and that he is following a course based on US national security interests, then Obama’s statecraft in Syria may look less like indecisiveness and more like a Machiavellian strategy that cannot be described in the usual idealistic vocabulary presidents employ to describe their actions on the world stage.

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