The Lonely, Unilateral President
Poor Obama. So far, the only two countries he has engaged in a coalition of the willing or something has been France and England. And England has said “nope, no thanks”, in terms of attacking Syria. Well, their Parliament voted against any action on a narrow vote, anyhow, since PM David Cameron did something wild in actually putting it to their legislative body. We don’t quite know what the French opinion is. And Obama has really asked the United Nation to get involved to build a coalition. Nor much, if any, outreach, to other Middle Eastern nations. Remember when Bush obtained Resolution 1441 from the UN? And authorization from Congress? And built a coalition of well over 40 nations? All while giving Saddam time to comply with Res 1441 or face war? And we were told that that was “going it alone”? Good times, good times
President Barack Obama had hoped for a quick, convincing strike on Syria, but growing opposition and Great Britain’s stunning rejection of the attack has thrust him into the uncomfortable position of go-it-alone hawk.
Just how Obama, whose career sprung from the ashes of George W. Bush’s Iraq policy, got to this extraordinary moment in his presidency is a tale of good intentions, seat-of-the-pants planning and, above all, how a cautious commander-in-chief became imprisoned by a promise.
Glenn Thrush and Jennifer Epstein forgot to mention incompetence, a failure to plan for the eventuality of red lines being crossed, too much campaigning and too little Presidenting, and sheer incompetence. Oh, and thinking that leaders around the world will simply do as he says because it is Obama Saying It.
Obama seems likely to bull ahead with air attacks despite an impact and popularity that will be, at best, limited – an unsavory outcome marginally better than packing up his Tomahawks and going home, which would deal a humbling blow to U.S. prestige and embolden the Assad regime.
It’s a dilemma first-term Obama – who warned author Bob Woodward in 2010 that “once the dogs of war are unleashed, you don’t know where [they are] going to lead” – was careful to avoid.
But second-term Obama, tethered to his August 2012 “red line” pronouncement on Assad’s use of chemical weapons and eager to shed his lead-from-behind image, now runs “the risk of looking weak any way this turns out,” in the words of one former adviser who cited the limited impact of any missiles-only strike.
Look, I don’t think the “red line” comment was a Bad Thing. Warning Syria to not use WMD or face consequences is not a bad position. Unfortunately, 1,300 people killed by chemical weapons in a civil war where well over 100,000 have already been killed fails to incite people’s passion. When Obama made his red lines statements, I would suspect he was thinking more like 10,000 or more killed in a WMD attack. Nor do we really know who did it. And since it is the Assad regime and their supporters versus an uprising that is now in bed with al Qaeda and other Islamists, it’s hard for people to get worked up.
The House of Commons vote had a sins-of-the-father quality, hobbling a pair of leaders all too aware of the legacies of their predecessors George W. Bush and Tony Blair, who spearheaded the deeply unpopular Iraq invasion.
“Isn’t the real reason we’re here today, is not because of the horror of these weapons and the horror exists — but because the American president foolishly drew a red line and because of his position now, he’s going to attack or face humiliation?” asked Labour MP Paul Flynn during a raucous Thursday debate closely monitored by the White House.
I’m not going to re-litigate Operation Iraqi Freedom, except to say that dealing with Saddam and his torturous, murderous, violent regime after years of seeing 16 UN resolutions violated was popular, and the right thing to do. It only became unpopular after things became hard during reconstruction, and people decided that Hating Bush was fun, even though it damaged the military folks serving in Iraq, put them more in harms way, made their jobs harder, and emboldened the enemy.
Both Democrats and Republicans are demanding that Obama come to Congress, and, really, he surely has the time, since this is a slow, slow, slow march to wagging a finger at Syria with a few cruise missiles, and, due to all the leaks, Assad will have advance notice of where they will land.
Obama might actually get the backing of Congress and the American People if he would actually give a proper, president speech and lay out the reasoning. He won’t. Remember when Bush used the 2003 State Of the Union to lay out the full rationale for Iraq (which included way more than just denying Saddam WMD)? Obama can’t be bothered to even talk to the American People. No wonder he’s lonely.
Oh, BTW, free range chickenhawk Nancy Pelosi is telling Obama to hit Syria. I’m still unclear how the minor use of chemical weapons is “an issue of our national security, regional stability and global security.”