The President spoke to the American people and made an impassioned case for taking action against Syria, both on humanitarian grounds and for the security of the United States, if not the world. Waiting three weeks to address the nation following the latest Syrian gassing of its citizens on August 21st (yes, according to Secretary Kerry there had been 13 prior gassings) sends a message of its own. The wrong kind of message. Now everything seems to depend on the Putin Plan. However, it is very doubtful that the Syrian chemical weapons will be secured as quickly as we are being led to believe –that process is apt to go on for a very long time.
There is almost a whiff of Munich in great power waffling over Syria’s use of gas, in which every concession was squeezed out of the Western World. Neville Chamberlain came home with a paper saying “I have secured peace in our time.” Hitler said he had no more demands to make and the rest is history.
President Obama after punting to a very reluctant Congress in an embarrassing display of confusion; is now relying on that great protector of human rights, arch autocrat Vladimir Putin, to control his ally Bashar al Assad. Even a liberal commentator like Eugene Robinson writing in The Washington Post has criticized the confusion at the White House:
“The Obama administration keeps undermining its own case for a punitive strike in Syria. If the president wants permission from Congress and support from the American people, he and his aides had better get their story straight. The “messaging,” to use an unfortunate Washington term, has been confusing, contradictory and halfhearted. The nation simply will not approve going to war if its leaders cannot coherently explain what they want to do, how they plan to do it and why.”
American prestige in the world has taken a big hit in recent weeks. It is very hard for anyone with a head and a heart not to take a stand when gas is introduced into 21st century warfare..
The President, it seems, favored such a strike, but then lost control of the situation when he drew a line in the sand, vacillated and then handed the ball off to Congress while it was out of session. In the meantime, America was without leadership and the world stands to suffer the consequences. Fortunately, we have a great and trustworthy friend like Vladimir Putin to pull our chestnuts out of the fire. The end result is that Assad gets away with murder after ducking the “unbelievably small” missile attack that might have come his way, and America descends to a new low in world prestige. As Peggy Noonan wrote, “(the world) rued in retrospect (when it learned, belatedly, that Saddam had used gas against the Kurds). Syria is different: It is the first obvious, undeniable, real‑time, YouTube use of chemical weapons. The whole world knew of it the morning after it happened, through horrified, first‑person accounts, from videos of hospital workers and victims’ families. It is entirely understandable that Barack Obama’s way of dealing with Syria in recent weeks should have elicited responses ranging from puzzlement to disgust.”
“Even members of his own party,” as Norman Podhoretz reports, “are despairingly echoing in private the public denunciations of him as ‘incompetent,’ ‘bungling, ‘feckless,’ ‘amateurish’ and ‘in over his head’ coming from his political opponents on the right.”
If this is indeed the pass to which Mr. Obama has led us, it either suggests how incompetent and amateurish the president is, or how skillful he is. We fear his foreign policy has become a dismal failure. Others, somewhat Machiavellian, consider it to be a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish
Again, from Peggy Noonan, “The world must think and speak with stature and seriousness of the moment we’re in and the darkness on the other side of the door. It must rebuke those who used the weapons, condemn their use, and shun the users. It must do more, in concert–surely we can agree on this–to help Syria’s refugees. It must stand up for civilization.”
We are not advocating a military strike, far from it. We’ll leave that judgment, should the time come, to experts who really understand the risks as well as our capability to do something effective. We are, however, bemoaning the lack of leadership from the United States of America. While the military option must remain on the table if diplomacy is to succeed, the American people are war weary and do not support military action. A Reuters’ poll had support for military action at 20%. Members of Congress have been struck, and in some cases shocked, by the depth of opposition from their constituents. A great nation cannot go to war (and that’s what a strike on Syria, a sovereign nation, will be — an act of war) — without some rough unity as to the propriety of the decision. The Administration has no discernible strategy in the absence of a negotiated settlement. A small, limited strike that, according to Secretary Kerry, would be an unbelievably small strike, looks merely symbolic, a face saving measure. But what if Syria strikes back in retaliation? Are we not then at war? Secretary Kerry has no way of knowing whether we would be entering into something “unbelievably small” or a first step into something unbelievably big. Anyone still remember the Gulf of Tonkin?
Iran and North Korea are most certainly watching as we make our feckless efforts with regard to Syria? Should diplomacy bog down and America not move against Syria, they will assume that we have, after all, become a paper tiger. What other conclusion can we expect North Korea and Iran to draw? North Korea, which is probably the major supplier of nuclear technology to other countries, will draw its own conclusion, and so will Iran as it continues its relentless effort to develop nuclear weapons despite their absurd statements that they are not.
Syria, it seems, is willing to give up control of its chemical weapons in exchange for our not bombing them. This is being hailed as a very positive development because it unsnares the trap into which the President snared himself. The President lost control of the situation, America’s leadership, at least temporarily, evaporated and a bunch of very bad actors do, no doubt, see us as a paper tiger.
The President has seemed ambivalent, confused, and unaware of the implications of his words and stands.
It was embarrassing to hear President. Obama say: “It’s not my fault we’re in this boat!” “I didn’t set a red line,” and “My credibility is not at stake.”
America has held world leadership ever since the end of the Second World War when the nation left its pre-war isolationism to the recesses of history. No president has surrendered that leadership role since FDR. But now, with Vladimir Putin in the driver’s seat, sadly, America seems to have lost its way.