President Obama’s indecisive reaction to Syria debacle emboldens our enemies abroad
By MICHAEL GOODWIN
August 29, 2013
A headline the other day called President Obama a “reluctant warrior.” It was half-right. He’s reluctant, but not much of a warrior.
His feckless, indulgent dithering while Syria burns would be the low point of his foreign policy except for the fact that it is alarmingly typical.
The president from the faculty lounge is proving again that he is simply no match for determined adversaries, terrorists and genocidal maniacs.
From the upheavals of the so-called Arab Spring to the “reset” with Russia to the “engagement” with Iran, Obama’s sophomoric habit of leading from behind has reduced the planet’s lone superpower to a paper tiger and emboldened those who would do us harm.
Nearly five years into his presidency, it is still Amateur Hour in the White House.The debacle in Syria illustrates what’s wrong with his worldview.
While the president was busy apologizing for America, Syria exploded into a civil war that is spreading into other countries and could destabilize the entire region.
Believing his rhetoric and pique would pass for a policy, Obama backed himself into a corner with no good options.
We can’t know what would have happened if America had played from its strengths. We only know disaster has followed his reckless decision to abdicate our leadership position.
Recall that after Bashar al-Assad opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in March 2011, then- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called him a “reformer” and expressed confidence that he was no Moammar Khadafy. As the bodies piled up, Obama himself switched course, saying Assad must go.
He kept saying that as whole cities were leveled amid reports of torture, atrocities and slaughter. His warnings ignored, a year ago, Obama upped the ante, saying Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for action.
Assad crossed the red line twice — and still, the president hesitates. It’s not that he is going wobbly. Obama is wobbly.Even now, as Washington and the world expect a military strike, its purpose is shrouded in a fog of half-measures, media leaks and political posturing.White House officials promise to “punish” Assad while also insisting the aim is not “regime change.”
The leakers helpfully include a list of possible military targets, vow the attacks will last “no more than two days” and be finished “ before the president leaves for Russia next week.”You don’t have to read tea leaves to realize that the commander-in-chief is holding his nose while deigning to squeeze a military operation into his busy schedule. Makes you proud, no? No. It makes me ashamed and furious.
Why bother with a military attack at all? If the aim is simply that hoary trope of “sending a message,” Obama should just call Assad and tell him he’s a very bad boy. That would save blood and treasure.
In fact, it makes zero sense to use the military for any purpose other than achieving policy goals. If the policy is regime change in Syria, as Obama has said for two years, then a military attack should support that policy.That means going after Assad personally, because nothing says regime change like droning the Butcher-in-Chief.
In his bed, if possible.
If that’s not the purpose or policy, then there is no obvious reason to use the military. Bouncing rubble with a few missiles will not help the rebels. Even worse, it sends the message that America is not serious.
That, in fact, is the very message Obama sent with his red line. As Sen. John McCain argued, the red line gave the green light for everything short of chemical weapons.
So Assad killed 80,000 or so people without using chemical weapons, confident the United States would care only if he killed them with chlorine gas or sarin. Bombs, mortars, tanks and torture were inexplicably OK with Obama.
A military attack without a clear military purpose would be another green light for mass murder, and not just in Syria.Iran would freshly conclude it has nothing to fear as it marches toward nuclear weapons. And because weakness begets aggression, Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda groups everywhere would take advantage of Obama’s lack of resolve.
His back-and-forth on Egypt is another misreading of history and human nature that cost us an ally.
Our hard-won gains in Iraq are being erased in spasms of violence, and the Taliban in Afghanistan now know they only need wait for our scheduled departure.
Wherever you look, our retreat is leaving a vacuum that is being filled in the worst possible ways.
In a recent speech, Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution reviewed the history of how America took the international lead in the first place.
It came after World War II, when statesmen and leaders of both parties decided that the US was uniquely equipped to forge a global order that would stop world wars before they started.
That global order, with occasional mistakes and failures, has lasted more than 60 years, a period of unprecedented human prosperity and a wondrous spread of democracy.
The world we helped build benefitted every American, but not just Americans.Yet, Kagan warns, if we forget why we assumed that role and walk away from the world, there will be a new global order. It will be created and policed by someone else — China or Russia, perhaps. Or maybe there will be a period of complete global disorder, a frightening prospect that, in my view, grows more likely each day.Presumably, Obama would deny that he favors any of those alternatives. But you would never know that from his actions.