Amateur Hour

I can’t help but reach the conclusion that the Syrian situation has been badly handled by the White House and the State Department.

From the President’s early comments that purported to draw a “red line” if the Syrian government used chemical weapons, to the announcements that the U.S. would be involved in an imminent strike after claiming to have incontrovertible evidence of Syria’s use of gas against its own people, to Great Britain’s embarrassing refusal to become involved in any action, and finally to President Obama’s abrupt decision to seek Congressional approval for some kind of action against Syria, the Obama Administration seems to be making it up as it goes along. The President now needs to resort to what the New York Times describes as “the most extraordinary lobbying campaign of Mr. Obama’s presidency” to try to convince lawmakers to support the Administration’s plans and avoid a humiliating loss in Congress that would further undermine the President’s credibility abroad.  In the meantime, even the President’s supporters think his performance has been “embarrassing” and the Syrians feel like the President’s decision to reverse course is a victory of sorts.

This blundering means that the problem goes beyond Syria and its use of chemical weapons to raise much broader issues.  President Obama often seems to think that his rhetorical powers are so extraordinary that if he just gives a speech, everything will change — but that’s not how things work in the world.  He should never have drawn the “red line” without knowing that he would be supported, in Congress and in the world at large, in taking action if Syria crossed it.  Obviously, he didn’t do so.  Now, his credibility, and the credibility of the United States as a whole, is at stake.

Thanks to those mistakes, we’ll never have the ability as a country to have a free discussion about whether to intervene in Syria or, as Secretary of State John Kerry puts it, engage in “armchair isolationism,” because the congressional debate will be colored by comments, like those of Senator John McCain, that the failure to back the President’s hasty words with action could be “catastrophic.”  Such comments recognize that the Syrian chemical weapons issue, tragic as it is for the Syrian people, is a small blip on America’s geopolitical screen.  The much bigger and more important issues are what might happen if China or Russia — or Iran or North Korea — feel that the President’s words mean nothing.  Once he loses credibility with our adversaries it will never be fully regained.

I happen to think we shouldn’t intervene in Syria, and I don’t care whether a blowhard like John Kerry calls me an “armchair isolationist” or not.  As a country, America needs to address this issue and decide what our role in the world will be and make some hard choices about our vital interests in view of our finite economic resources.  Now we may be cornered and forced into taking ill-advised, poorly defined action in a country where our national interests really aren’t implicated because the President didn’t think before he talked.  Indeed, Kerry’s remarks yesterday suggest that the Obama Administration wants to leave open the option of sending our ground troops into Syria — which seems like an extraordinarily bad idea in just about every way.

These are an amateur’s unfortunate mistakes, but mistakes that could have real, painful consequences for our country nevertheless.

5 thoughts on “Amateur Hour

  1. You are so right; and the situation is so tragic. Our country’s credibility is in shambles and the “peace through strength” mantra now is nullified. It means not just peace through a strong military but also peace through strong convictions and integrity—words and action that have meaning and that the world can rely upon. Does it really advance American interests to enter into a tragic civil war where it is not clear who has done what and who is right? And to what end? I think not.


  2. This is well put.

    Regardless of whether or not we should intervene, Obama’s lack of leadership has stripped us of the choice. To me, it seems like he’d rather not intervene, but is now pigeon-holed because of his careless remarks. The only real reason to bring in Congress is to abate some of his political liability. Which is cowardly. Not to mention awful military strategy.

    In my opinion, mainstream media’s given him a free pass by focusing the debate on ‘whether or not we should intervene?’. The question ought to be ‘why have we been forced to adjudicate this conflict in the first place?’ At this point, we don’t really have a choice. America loses all credibility in the region if we don’t. But we should have never been put in this situation to begin with.

    Blame for that seems to rest solely with Obama. He’s over-played his hand throughout the region. He’s naively invested America in the Arab Spring movements because he believed they’d turn into sustainable democracies. Which, is just as naive, as thinking Iraq or Afghanistan was ready to govern themselves peacefully after toppling the regimes. But we’re yet to read anything (outside the WSJ) that holds him accountable for such massive failures. Thought mainstream media would’ve learned a lesson after giving Bush a free pass on Iraq.


  3. Really, who are we to decide that democracy is the answer for the world? We are a young country trying to change ancient societies. It is not our business and we are arrogant to think our way is the best way.


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