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June 5th, 2013
06:52 PM ET

Liberal columnist: Obama not leading on Syria

The shakeup at the White House Wednesday could have implications  for President Barack Obama's policy on Syria.

Susan Rice and Samantha Power, Obama's picks for national security adviser and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations respectively, are both advocates for intervening where countries are killing their people in masses, such as what happened in Rwanda. Power even wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about it, where she argues that no president has ever made preventing genocide a priority.

But it is unclear if the same rules apply to Syria.

Richard Cohen, a left-leaning columnist for The Washington Post, said he doubts either Rice or Power will affect Obama's stance on Syria.

"He's already unhesitatingly overruled his Secretary of Defense, his Secretary of State, his CIA director, on providing arms to the Syrian rebels," said Cohen.

"I can't see these appointments as game changers, they're personnel changes," said Cohen.

Cohen latest column, titled "Cold-hearted Liberals Have Abandoned Syria," argues that people who would typically want to push intervention have decided not to do so in Syria. Rice for example has not pushed for intervention in Syria, though she did for Libya.

Cohen said the administration appears to be afflicted with "Iraq Syndrome," or "Vietnam Syndrome," worried that intervening will end in quagmire.

"I don't see Syria as Iraq all over again," said Cohen. "Two years ago I wanted the United States to provide arms to the Syrian rebels, the moderate rebels."

"My battle cry is not 'On to Damascus,' my battle cry is let's save some lives, if we can," said Cohen.

The columnist said the United States is good at "sifting the bad guys from the good guys," responding to experts' assertions that few know who the Syrian rebels are, whether they share the same motives, and whether the U.S. can trust them.

It is clear that the Syrian war is escalating, with the numbers of refugees mounting and the death toll topping 80,000.

"Everything is spinning out of control and the least effective player in the whole region is the United States of America," said Cohen. "It's kind of preposterous, it's also kind of appalling."

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicates that fewer Americans want to provide humanitarian to Syria, let alone get involved militarily.

"If [Obama] showed some leadership the American people would understand, and would follow him," said Cohen.

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