It’s not Barack Obama’s fault that Syria is an epic disaster, nor is it his fault that it’s a lose-lose situation for the United States no matter what he decides to do about it, including the do-nothing option. But the particular bind he’s in right now is the result of an unforced error of his own making.
An effective leader would have consulted with key people in Congress and made sure of his backing before making explicit threats of force. Now the President is twisting lonesomely in the wind, and the question is whether Congress will ride to the rescue. If it doesn’t, it will be the closest thing the American system has to a parliamentary vote of “no confidence”, where Congress explicitly declares to the world that the President of the United States does not speak for the country.
That would be very dangerous. Foreigners will no longer know when and whether to take anything this President says as representing American policy rather than his own editorial opinions.
Considered in the abstract, the planned attacks on Syria may or may not be smart. But thanks to this latest round of “smart diplomacy,” if bombs don’t fall on Syria, President Obama will have bombed his own credibility into oblivion.
He is now at the mercy of forces beyond his control. Congress will either authorize war or it won’t. And if it doesn’t, he’s finished on the world stage. We’ll have President “present” for the next three years, which in all likelihood is enough time for Iran to complete a nuclear weapon if it decides not to hold back. God only knows how many more people will die in Syria during that time frame and how badly it will tear apart the rest of the region.
Apparently the reason the US hasn’t bombed Syria yet is because the president lost his nerve.
Here is the AP’s Josh Lederman:
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama was ready to order a military strike against Syria, with or without Congress’ blessing. But on [last] Friday night, he suddenly changed his mind.
Senior administration officials describing Obama’s about-face Saturday offered a portrait of a president who began to wrestle with his own decision – at first internally, then confiding his views to his chief of staff, and finally summoning his aides for an evening session in the Oval Office to say he’d had a change of heart.
If the president has no confidence in his initial decision to strike Bashar al-Assad, and if Congress has no confidence in the president, and if the public has no confidence in either, then we’d all better hope, if we do bumble our way into intervention in Syria, that Assad, the Iranians, and Hezbollah decide to just sit back and take it for a couple of days. Because if this gets even a little bit complicated—if Iran or Hezbollah strike back at the United States or its regional allies—we could really find ourselves in some trouble.
Look. There’s a solid case to be made for getting involved, and there’s a solid case to be made for staying out of it and letting events run their course. I can easily think of disastrous consequences no matter what course of action the president takes, and I could do it all day. So I’m inclined to give him plenty of slack.
But he’s hurting himself and he’s hurting America with all this wishy-washy hand-wringing and dithering.