Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, absolutely nails the magnitude of the debacle the Obama administration has suffered and the reason:
Sometimes a president does not have a communications problem. Sometimes a president has a reality problem.
President Obama’s speech to the nation on Syria was premised on the denial of reality. He claimed that the Russian/Syrian initiative resulted from the “credible threat of U.S. military action.” In fact, it filled a vacuum of presidential credibility. Obama had been isolated within the G-20 and abandoned by our closest ally, Britain. Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of a military strike for which the president clearly had no stomach. Obama was on the verge of the most devastating congressional foreign policy repudiation since the Senate voted 49-35 against entering the League of Nations in 1920.
This president’s biggest problem, other than a total lack of leadership ability, has been reality all along. He’s always believed he simply has to speak and others will follow. Yet, in reality he’s done precisely what Gerson claims he’s done – isolate himself and the US. He has no close relationships internationally. Our closest ally in everything we’ve done for centuries has abandoned us. His credibility in the Middle East is hovering close to zero. His “reset” policy with Russia has been a disaster. And he remains reactive and indecisive at place in history that calls for decisiveness and leadership. Consequently another nation is moving to take that lead he’s abandoned.
Vladimir Putin offered Obama an escape, which he gratefully took. But there are implicit costs. A U.S. military strike — something Putin thought inevitable just a few weeks ago — is off. Russia’s Syrian client, Bashar al-Assad, stays in power. The Syrian opposition is effectively hung out to dry. Russia gains a position of influence in the Middle East it has not held since Anwar Sadat threw the Soviets out of Egypt. This allows Moscow to supply proxies such as Syria and Iran with weapons while positioning itself as the defender of international law and peace. Iran sees that the United States is a reluctant power, with a timid and polarized legislature, that can easily be deflected from action by transparent maneuvers.
Other than this, ’twas a famous victory.
Speaking of credibility, to watch the spin-meisters attempt to call this a “famous victory” shreds what little they may still enjoy. No one grounded in reality and at all concerned with their credibility would declare this any sort of a ‘victory’ for the US.
But hey we had a speech …
The resulting message was boldly mixed. Assad is a moral monster — who is now our partner in negotiations. The consequences would be terrible “if we fail to act” — which now seems the most likely course. America “doesn’t do pinpricks” — especially when it does not do anything. “The burdens of leadership are often heavy” — unless they are not assumed.
And here we are. A shrunken giant, leaderless and adrift. “Led” by an incompetent with coming negotiations headed by another incompetent (Kerry), both of whom have been badly played by the Russians and the Syrians. There’s no reason to believe they won’t come out on the short end of this deal either.
As for the planned, then unplanned, then delayed, then put on indefinite hold strike that Kerry claims is the reason Syria came to the table – Charles Krauthammer lays that out for you:
That “strike Syria, maybe” speech begins with a heart-rending account of children consigned to a terrible death by a monster dropping poison gas. It proceeds to explain why such behavior must be punished. It culminates with the argument that the proper response — the most effective way to uphold fundamental norms, indeed human decency — is a flea bite: something “limited,” “targeted” or, as so memorably described by Secretary of State John Kerry, “unbelievably small.”
“Unbelievably small”. Likely had ’em shaking in their boots in Damascus.
Krauthammer also sums up the “deal” Obama et. al. are now trying to claim was their idea all along (not that anyone but the most gullible or partisan or both are buying that):
The hinge of the entire Russian strategy is saving the Assad regime. That’s the very purpose of the “Russian proposal.” Imagine that some supposed arms-control protocol is worked out. The inspectors have to be vetted by Assad, protected by Assad, convoyed by Assad, directed by Assad to every destination. Negotiation, inspection, identification, accounting, transport and safety would require constant cooperation with the regime, and thus acknowledgment of its sovereignty and legitimacy.
So much for Obama’s repeated insistence that Assad must go. Indeed, Putin has openly demandedthat any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment to forswear the use of force against Assad. On Thursday, Assad repeated that demand, warning that without an American pledge not to attack and not to arm the rebels, his government would agree to nothing.
This would abolish the very possibility of America tilting the order of battle in a Syrian war that Assad is now winning thanks to Russian arms, Iranian advisers and Lebanese Hezbollah shock troops. Putin thus assures the survival of his Syrian client and the continued ascendancy of the anti-Western Iranian bloc.
And what does America get? Obama saves face.
Indeed … some deal.
All of that said, it may end up being the “best” deal we could hope for given the ineptness and incompetence of this administration. Back to Gerson:
I am relieved that President Obama was given a reprieve from a devastating rejection by Congress, which would have wounded the presidency itself. We should hope (against hope) that a negotiation with Putin, Assad and the U.N. Security Council to establish international control of the world’s third-largest chemical weapons stockpile in the middle of a civil war is successful. And Congress should seek ways to strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations.
But this remains a sad moment for the United States. We have seen a Putin power play, based on a Kerry gaffe, leading to a face-saving presidential retreat — and this was apparently the best of the available options.
Pretty bad when this is the best outcome one could hope for … a degree of face saving for a less that satisfactory president who still doesn’t realize how badly he was bested.
Well you’ve all seen the Putin op-ed in the NY Times so I’m not going to spend too much time on it other than to say it is another indicator of the lack of respect the President of the United States has internationally. I can’t imagine Putin trying this with any other president. This is just “in your face” stuff from the Russian president. On the other side of that, I can’t imagine an op-ed like that ever being given the okay in Pravda or any like publication.
But it is another among many indicators of how outclassed and how outplayed the administration has been in this foreign policy mess of their own making.
That said, it’s time to look at the status and likely progress on the quest to bring Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.
Secretary of State John Kerry headed late Wednesday to Geneva with a team of arms control experts for intensive talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, to try to reach an agreement on how to secure and ultimately destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
Mr. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was taking his own arms control experts to the negotiations, holding out the possibility that there would be depth and detail to the talks. But sharp divisions remained between the two powers less than 24 hours after President Obama said he would hold off on an American military strike on Syria and gave a qualified endorsement to a Russian proposal for international monitors to take over the country’s chemical arsenal.
“Sharp divisions” is diplo-speak for “we’re miles and miles and miles apart – don’t expect any agreement anytime soon.”
Or as we said the other day, “Syria has all the time in the world to do whatever it wishes to do.”
American officials said the Syria debate would now unfold largely in Geneva, where the United States wants the talks to focus not only on Syria’s chemical weapons but also on securing munitions like bombs or warheads that are designed for chemical attacks. The officials acknowledged that securing the delivery systems for attacks goes far beyond what Mr. Lavrov has offered or is likely to agree to in Geneva this week.
Adding to the complexity of the diplomatic task is the reality that even if a deal is reached, it would take a year or more to destroy Syria’s chemical stores. One estimate by Pentagon officials determined that Mr. Assad has 1,400 tons of sarin, VX and mustard agents, and that it would take at least 200 to 300 days to take control of the weapons and, short of destruction, to make them unusable.
A lot can be hidden in “200 to 300″ days, can’t they. And, talks can easily stall, be delayed, be postponed, be suspended, etc., all while Russia plays hardball to our T-ball.
With Putin’s op-ed and Russia leading on the Syria debacle, while the administration plays defense, you’re seeing a leadership shift right before your eyes. Barack Obama has all but ceded the superpower role the US has enjoyed … he’s squandered it with is inept handling of foreign affairs, his abject lack of leadership and his inability to attract any support for his policies.
I’m pining for Jimmy Carter for heaven sake.
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, talking about the speech Obama made about Syria last night, had this to say:
Yesterday, though, Obama sounded contradictory and confused. He attempted to rouse moral outrage over the use of chemical weapons against scores or hundreds children in Damascus on August 21st, which is an easy case to make — but thousands of children have been killed in the Syrian civil war in all sorts of ways, by all sides. Obama argued that Bashar al-Assad had to be deterred from using chemical weapons in the future, but left out any call for regime change, which is still the official strategic goal of the Obama administration. To Americans reluctant to engage in another war, Obama cajoled us to action, claiming that only the United States had the power to bring Assad to heel.
In this instance, Obama is completely right. However, to bring “Assad to heel” would take a whole lot more of American power than this president is willing to use. If, in fact, he keeps it “small”, i.e. a very limited strike, people are asking ‘what’s the use’. It won’t bring Assad to heel as he claims we have within our power. He’s wanting one thing but not willing to do what is necessary to achieve it. And we all know about how mission creep works. Especially when there is a political ego involved.
But that sort of incoherence wasn’t at all confined to that portion of the speech. As Politico’s editor-in-chief said:
‘Two weeks of zig-zag foreign policy by President Barack Obama – marching to war one moment, clinging desperately to diplomacy the next – culminated Tuesday night, appropriately enough, in a zig-zag address to the nation that did little to clarify what will come next in the Syria crisis but shined a glaring hot light on the debate in the president’s own mind.
‘The speech began with an earnest statement on behalf of Zig, a sober appreciation that military power has its limits and good intentions don’t necessarily equate to good policy: ‘I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.’
‘But it was followed the next paragraph by some piercingly indignant words making the case for Zag, the conviction that conscience and the obligations of global leadership sometimes require America to act. The aim was to shake a skeptical public out of complacency: ‘The images from this massacre are sickening: men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.
As another columnist for Politico said:
“In a painful reminder of why presidential addresses are usually day-of bookings – made when the White House can match the right timing with a clear message for the American people – Obama went before the cameras in the East Room and said… not much that he hadn’t said already over the last two weeks.
Back to Morrissey:
So what was Obama asking of the American people? Nothing. What new and convincing information did Obama bring to the American people? None. What new argument did Obama make to shift the strong momentum against military action? He had none. There was nothing new in this speech from Obama that hadn’t been argued at length in his six broadcast-network interviews the day before, or that his White House and State Department hadn’t offered in the previous week before the speech.
Meanwhile Obama wants the vote in Congress to be delayed because, well, you know, he’d lose.
But all is right with the world now … Obama has made a speech and the spin machine is hard at work trying to pretend this all went according to some plan that no one knew about previously.
Yeah, not really … although the usual suspects are bound to try to spin this as a triumph of diplomacy. Oh, it’s a “solution” (“Peace in our time”!) … but not one that accomplishes much of what the US wanted done – well, except maybe save a little face. And for that, they’re rather glad to capitulate.
In fact, as The New Republic pointed out, Putin and Assad just played Obama … big time. They knew he was desperate for a way to climb down from his “red line” comments and so they took an absurd, off the cuff remark by Sec. State John Kerry and the administration said, “sure”.
Speaking in London next to British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that perhaps the military strike around which the administration has been painfully circling for weeks could be avoided if Bashar al-Assad can “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that.”
The fact that Kerry immediately followed with, “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously,” didn’t seem to bother anyone. (Probably because they were focusing on his other slip-up: calling the promised strikes “unbelievably small.”)
The Russians immediately jumped on the impromptu proposal, calling Kerry to check if he was serious before going live with their proposal to lean on Syria. An hour later, they trotted out Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Mouallem, who said he too was down with the proposal, which was a strange way to get the Syrians to finally admit they even had chemical weapons to begin with. Before long, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the English, and the French were all on board, too.
As for the “truth” about this being something planned by the White House and Kerry? Too late to claim that. The White House blurted out reality:
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the White House was just as surprised as anyone. Asked if this was a White House plan that Kerry had served up in London, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken was unequivocal. “No, no, no,” he said. “We literally just heard about this as you did some hours ago.”
That would be funny if it wasn’t so sad and scary.
So how did they play the Obama administration? Remember that Kerry said they had to be under international control in a “week”? Yeah, that’s going to happen isn’t it. How about 2 years? 3?
Here’s the point … they avert any strike with their agreement knowing the international community – now that the UN is back in the game and Russia and China still have Security Council vetoes – won’t be able to move the ball for months if at all.
Again, I’ll just let TNR lay it out for you:
[Kerry] answered a hypothetical question in a hypothetical way. He blurted out a pie-in-the-sky, hyperbolic idea—getting rid of “every single bit” of the chemical weapons scattered across Syria “in the next week”—but everyone seized on it as a realistic proposal. It’s not.
First, how do you deal with a regime that only admits it has chemical weapons under the threat of impending military intervention? Or that uses chemical weapons while a team of U.N. inspectors is there to investigate the prior use of chemical weapons, in the same city?
Second, that handful of chemical weapons storage and mixing facilities are just the ones we know about, and, now that the U.S. has been loudly beating the war drum for weeks, Assad has been moving his troops and weapons around. If we thought getting to “beyond a reasonable doubt” with the intelligence on the August 21 chemical attack was hard, imagine us getting to “every single bit.”
Third, negotiating with the Russians and the Syrians about what “every single bit” and what disposing them mean will certainly take more than “the next week.” Both Moscow and Damascus have all the time in the world, and the Kremlin, which has never met a legal norm it couldn’t waltz around, will quibble and hair-split and insist that this is all done legally—whatever that means in Moscow.
Fourth, the mechanics of disposing these chemical weapons are far from straightforward. Quoth the Times: “flying [the chemical weapons] out of the country is not as simple as picking up nuclear components—as the United States did in Libya in late 2003—and moving them to a well-guarded site in Tennessee.”
Fifth, and most important, is the fact that Assad giving up his chemical weapons was only part of the stated objective. If you listened to the White House pitch closely, the point of the military strike was not just to stop Assad from using chemical weapons further on his citizens, and it was not just to warn other rogue leaders with their fingers on various triggers. Part of the goal was to force a political solution that would remove Assad from power. That is, even though the Obama administration has been insisting that it is not interested in “regime change,” that disastrous cornerstone of the Bush era, it was, in fact, pursuing regime change, at least until Monday.
Absolutely played. Oh, sure, Obama can now climb down and pretend to have implemented a real solution by claiming his threat of a strike caused this. In fact, the threat of a strike is pretty much irrelevant right now. We’re into interminable word wars now. By taking this up, as TNR points out, Syria now has “all the time in the world” while Russia plays its part in international negotiations. Immune now from a military strike and no real threat that anything will happen of any significance to take control of their chemical weapons any time soon.
So Assad will pursue his strategy without any implicit or explicit attempt at regime change (or deterrence, or armed intervention or …) and, as it appears the regime is getting the upper hand in the civil war, work toward ending it. Then Russia can declare the control of Syria’s chemical weapons a moot point and veto everything in sight.
But it is all good in the White House – they think the president’s credibility has been saved by this charade.
Seriously … they do.
So it’s back to “leading from behind.”
As it stands now, Russia and France have taken the lead on working out a plan to get Assad to hand over his chemical weapons, a lead Obama seems all too happy to relinquish. Hammering out the details will take a some time, and, while they’re at it, Assad will still have his chemical weapons but will no longer be under the threat of a U.S. military strike. (Who knows if he’ll use them, but he certainly hasn’t let up on the conventional shelling.) Putin has succeeded in throwing sand in the gears of the American political process and separating the U.S. from its allies, and the current American handwringing over Syria seems likely to grind on for weeks. And a pro-Assad paper ran with the following headline this morning: “Moscow and Damascus Pull the Rug Out From Under the Feet of Obama.”
What’s the saying? “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt?
Iran is enduring economic sanctions designed to slow the country’s nuclear weapons program, but President Obama’s team thought the regime might abandon dictator Bashar Assad over his use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.
Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, hoped that a team of UN investigators — many of whom, presumably, have a longstanding relationship with Iranian leaders — could write a report that would convince Iran to abandon its ally at the behest of the United States.
“We worked with the UN to create a group of inspectors and then worked for more than six months to get them access to the country on the logic that perhaps the presence of an investigative team in the country might deter future attacks,” Power said at the Center for American Progress as she made the case for intervening in Syria.
“Or, if not, at a minimum, we thought perhaps a shared evidentiary base could convince Russia or Iran — itself a victim of Saddam Hussein’s monstrous chemical weapons attacks in 1987-1988 — to cast loose a regime that was gassing it’s people,” she said.
Good lord … how freakin’ naive and inept is this bunch, really?
Result of naive thinking?
Rather than “cast loose” Assad after the latest chemical weapons attack, as the Obama team hoped, “Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has warned the Obama administration against any proposed military strike on Syria,” as the International Business Times reports.
Look, it’s fairly simple – if the US is “for” something, Iran is most likely going to be against it. It has been like that for decades. And, in Iran’s world, Iraq does not equal Syria. More importantly, no matter what Syria does, it isn’t the “Great Satan”. And nothing his bunch has done in 4 1/2 years has changed that calculation one bit.
Incompetence on a level not yet seen before.
That, of course is exactly what Obama and, ironically, Kerry, are going to ask US servicemen and women to risk for their tattered “credibility”.
The Syrian rebels posed casually, standing over their prisoners with firearms pointed down at the shirtless and terrified men.
The prisoners, seven in all, were captured Syrian soldiers. Five were trussed, their backs marked with red welts. They kept their faces pressed to the dirt as the rebels’ commander recited a bitter revolutionary verse.
“For fifty years, they are companions to corruption,” he said. “We swear to the Lord of the Throne, that this is our oath: We will take revenge.”
The moment the poem ended, the commander, known as “the Uncle,” fired a bullet into the back of the first prisoner’s head. His gunmen followed suit, promptly killing all the men at their feet.
This scene, documented in a video smuggled out of Syria a few days ago by a former rebel who grew disgusted by the killings, offers a dark insight into how many rebels have adopted some of the same brutal and ruthless tactics as the regime they are trying to overthrow.
Those sorts of executions are tantamount to murder. I’m not saying that Syrian forces are any better, but to pretend that we’re helping out a side which is at all friendly to us or not packed to the rafters with murderous Islamic extremists is to simply blind one’s self to reality. And one has to wonder why alleged death by chemical weapons is somehow more atrocious or horrific than these murders? No “red line” here, huh?
Much of the concern among American officials has focused on two groups that acknowledge ties to Al Qaeda. These groups — the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — have attracted foreign jihadis, used terrorist tactics and vowed to create a society in Syria ruled by their severe interpretation of Islamic law.
They have established a firm presence in parts of Aleppo and Idlib Provinces and in the northern provincial capital of Raqqa and in Deir al-Zour, to the east on the Iraqi border.
While the jihadis claim to be superior fighters, and have collaborated with secular Syrian rebels, some analysts and diplomats also note that they can appear less focused on toppling President Bashar al-Assad. Instead, they said, they focus more on establishing a zone of influence spanning Iraq’s Anbar Province and the desert eastern areas of Syria, and eventually establishing an Islamic territory under their administration.
Other areas are under more secular control, including the suburbs of Damascus. In East Ghouta, for example, the suburbs east of the capital where the chemical attack took place, jihadis are not dominant, according to people who live and work there.
While many have deridingly called our potential effort there as acting as “al Queda’s air force”, that does, in fact, hold some truth. There is a well-organized effort among the rebels by Islamists to co-opt the effort if it is successful and turn Syria into an extremist Islamic state. And we want to help that effort? Why?
And while the United States has said it seeks policies that would strengthen secular rebels and isolate extremists, the dynamic on the ground, as seen in the execution video from Idlib and in a spate of other documented crimes, is more complicated than a contest between secular and religious groups.
What nonsense. Why in the world would anyone believe that the incompetent crew that makes up this administration has any possibility of actually being able to accomplish that? One only has to survey the shipwreck that is this nation’s foreign policy under Captain “Red Line” and it is clear that they could no more make that happen than understand that ego shouldn’t drive the use of the US military.
But it apparently is going too. The siren song of “save our president” is being wailed within the Congress and the usual party hacks appear to be lining up to put the men and women of the military in harm’s way because Obama shot his mouth off before doing the very basic work necessary to ensure he could back his words up and now Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are going to be asked to pull his fat out of a fire of his own making.
Chris Matthews of MSNBC, who served on Capitol Hill for years as a top Democratic aide, put the party’s dilemma in stark terms on Wednesday: “I think the Democrats are going to be forced to sacrifice men and women who really, really don’t want to vote for this. They’re going to have to vote for it to save the president’s hide. That’s a bad position to put your party in.”
“Sacrifice” men and women. What a freaking insult. Matthews likens a political act to a “sacrifice”. Give it a rest you buffoon. He’s apparently more than willing to risk the sacrifice of military lives in order to “save the president’s hide”.
And make no mistake, even a partisan hack like Matthews knows this is a crisis of the president’s own making. And why are they willing to go along? Not because Syria has any compelling national interest to the United States or that it poses an imminent threat to the country. Nope. It’s pure politics:
The Obama administration’s efforts to get Congress to pass an authorization for military force against Syria are going badly in policy terms, but they are looking up in political terms. Even as the administration’s arguments become more strained, the political imperative that Democrats must support their president or risk having him “crippled” for the next 40 months is being drilled into them.
That’s it. Take us to war instead of face the political consequences of Obama’s self-inflicted wound. Apparently there’s much more at stake than a few military lives. /sarc
These are the people who you want leading you?
President Pass-the-Buck is at it again. This time he wanders out of the country to do it. In Stockholm he tells the world:
“My credibility’s not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’ credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important,” Mr. Obama said, referring to international laws against the use of chemical weapons.
America and Congress is it? Is it America and Congress who shot their mouth off? Nope. It was Mr. Obama. It is indeed his credibility (what’s left of it) that’s on the line. And, as I pointed out yesterday about how he was going to try to find someone or something to blame all this on, this is simply him validating my point.
He shoots his mouth off, he then goes to Congress and now it’s Congress whose credibility is on the line? I don’t think so.
Oh, and apparently, the crediblity of Congress (and one supposes America) is only on the line if they vote “no”. And if they do, who cares, he doesn’t need them anyhow:
President Barack Obama said he retains the right to order strikes against Syria even if Congress doesn’t authorize them, but he is seeking approval from U.S. lawmakers because he thinks it will strengthen America’s response.
*cough* BS *cough* This weasel we’ve elected president, who is so far in over his head he doesn’t know which way is up, is looking for political cover – period. He’s only going to Congress to strengthen his hand, even as pathetically weak as it is. The “I/me” president has put himself out on a limb and sawed it most of the way through. Now he just want’s some one to share it with him (and as usual Lindsey McCain – er, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are amenable to the idea).
This is raw politics at its worse. Obama goes out of the country to take a swing at Congress and the American people after finally asking for their approval.
This is what some of you elected.
A mess. Yes, a gold-plated, only-Obama-could-manage-it, mess. All because he has absolutely no leadership experience and still hasn’t figured out you have to be careful what you say when you’re the president.
It’s not like he hasn’t had enough time on the job to figure that out, but apparently he’s a slow learner.
This is all about him putting himself in a box. He shot his mouth off, his “red line” was crossed and now he’s stuck trying to back up his words with no support. The problem is then compounded by his not having the diplomatic skills or relationships to put any sort of coalition together. Nor did he really try to put one together. He assumed it would just happen, like with Libya (Europe led that one, he just tagged along).
And, arrogantly, he claimed he had all of the authorization he needed to pretty much do whatever he wanted. He’d just use his army.
Then the UK parliament said “no” to PM Cameron, Russia said “no” in terms of the UN security council and he was left twisting in the wind with … just France on his side. And they made it clear they wouldn’t act alone.
So how to get out of the pickle? Well, of course, he reverted to the only thing he seems to really half-way understand.
It was the parliamentary vote in the UK that brought the idea to mind. After essentially dismissing both “the people” and Congress, Mr. Obama suddenly decided both were critical to policy (or lack there of) on Syria.
So he “took it to the people” in a Rose Garden speech (on a Saturday afternoon, on a holiday weekend and the first weekend of college football) and announced that he was going to ask Congress for authorization to strike Syria. And then he immediately hit the links.
Wow … so much for immediacy. Congress is in recess and won’t be back for another week. The Syrian rebels are hung out to dry (not that I mind that at all, but again he’s the one spouting off about immediacy).
Now he’s set up something that can help ameliorate the total fiasco he’s fostered. At least at home. Sort of a win-win. If Congress says “ok” then he attacks and he can claim leadership (or if something goes terribly wrong, he can point to Congress and try to blame them). If Congress says “no”, then he can back down and immediately politicize the decision claiming his favorite whipping boy, the GOP, doesn’t care about Syrian children … or something.
Not that any of that will change how the world views him … weak, timid, unreliable and incompetent.
I can’t imagine how long it will take to rebuild the image of the US in not only the Middle East, but the world. When you have other leaders openly mocking yours, well, that’s not much of a sign of respect, is it?
The likely answer is “yes” since it appears the administration is of the opinion that if it doesn’t act, it will appear weak and ineffective (yes, France has said it too will strike, but in essence this will still be mostly a solo venture in the region’s eyes). Demagoguery and ego have combined to get us to this point. However, the question remains how effective any strike on Syria will be in reality if it is, as the President has said, short, limited and tailored (just muscular enough not to be mocked).
In recent days, U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon have watched with alarm as Mr. Assad has taken advantage of the Western deliberations to spread out his forces, complicating U.S. planning for strikes.
“We know [Assad] has been dispersing assets,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the intelligence.
U.S. officials said Mr. Assad has moved assets such as military helicopters and artillery pieces around the country, forcing a U.S. recalibration of the possible military response.
If Mr. Obama sticks with what originally was a finite set of prospective military and intelligence targets, officials said, then cruise-missile strikes would cause less damage than originally intended because at least some of the targets have been taken out of the line of fire.
Officials said Mr. Obama could adjust to Mr. Assad’s tactics by expanding the number of strikes to hit more targets, but doing so could increase the risk that U.S. cruise missiles will cause unintended damage, including civilian casualties, officials said.
Another senior official said the dispersal of Mr. Assad’s military assets was “certainly detrimental” to target planning.
Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, US military officers have deep concerns over a strike on Syria:
The recently retired head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, said last month at a security conference that the United States has “no moral obligation to do the impossible” in Syria. “If Americans take ownership of this, this is going to be a full-throated, very, very serious war,” said Mattis, who as Centcom chief oversaw planning for a range of U.S. military responses in Syria.
The potential consequences of a U.S. strike include a retaliatory attack by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah — which supports Assad — on Israel, as well as cyberattacks on U.S. targets and infrastructure, U.S. military officials said.
And it also stirs the possibility of terror attacks on US embassies, interests abroad and even the homeland. Gen. Mattis is correct. If the US strikes Syria, then the US takes ownership of this war. By that I mean if Assad then uses chemical weapons again, we’re in a position of having no choice but to address their use again.
Marine Lt. Col. Gordon Miller, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, warned this week of “potentially devastating consequences, including a fresh round of chemical weapons attacks and a military response by Israel.”
“If President Asadwere to absorb the strikes and use chemical weapons again, this would be a significant blow to the United States’ credibility and it would be compelled to escalate the assault on Syria to achieve the original objectives,” Miller wrote in a commentary for the think tank.
An acceptable risk?
Even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a highly political job) has tried to warn the administration off of this path:
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has warned in great detail about the risks and pitfalls of U.S. military intervention in Syria.
“As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that use of force will move us toward the intended outcome,” Dempsey wrote last month in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”
Dempsey has not spoken publicly about the administration’s planned strike on Syria, and it is unclear to what extent his position shifted after last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack. Dempsey said this month in an interview with ABC News that the lessons of Iraq weigh heavily on his calculations regarding Syria.
“It has branded in me the idea that the use of military power must be part of an overall strategic solution that includes international partners and a whole of government,” he said in the Aug. 4 interview. “The application of force rarely produces and, in fact, maybe never produces the outcome we seek.”
But the application of force seems to be the only tool in the Obama bag at the moment. And Dempsey is correct. It isn’t particularly difficult for the US to reach out and swat someone. But what is and always has been difficult is to predict what will follow such an application of force. The law of unintended consequences has a terrible history of rearing its ugly head each and every time force is applied in this manner.
As for the critical question, the question that all military operational planners ask first and then tailor a plan to achieve … well there is no obvious answer. That’s likely because the administration hasn’t an answer and has provided no guidance to those planning this misadventure:
“What is the political end state we’re trying to achieve?” said a retired senior officer involved in Middle East operational planning who said his concerns are widely shared by active-duty military leaders. “I don’t know what it is. We say it’s not regime change. If it’s punishment, there are other ways to punish.” The former senior officer said that those who are expressing alarm at the risks inherent in the plan “are not being heard other than in a pro-forma manner.”
Going through the motions of “listening to all sides” when, in fact, the decision to act militarily has been decided. It is down to how big or how small the strike will be. And, as we see above, Assad is doing everything he can to make Obama’s deliberations and decision making as difficult as he can.
The shaky coalition of Western nations promising to strike Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons is getting even shakier. In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron is reconsidering:
David Cameron backed down and agreed to delay a military attack on Syria following a growing revolt over the UK’s rushed response to the crisis on Wednesday night.
The Prime Minister has now said he will wait for a report by United Nations weapons inspectors before seeking the approval of MPs for “direct British involvement” in the Syrian intervention.
Oh look … Cameron plans on getting the approval of Parliament before committing British troops to war.
That’s because opposition British politicians apparently play hardball while ours … well they talk and complain a lot:
Senior sources had previously suggested that Britain would take part in strikes as soon as this weekend which meant an emergency recall of Parliament was necessary on Thursday.
However, following Labour threatening not to support the action and senior military figures expressing concerns over the wisdom of the mission, the Prime Minister on Wednesday night agreed to put British involvement on hold.
The climbdown is likely to be seen as an embarrassment for Mr Cameron as he was determined to play a leading role in British military strikes, which had been expected this weekend.
France too is showing signs of waffling:
French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that Syria needed a political solution, but that could only happen if the international community could halt killings like last week’s chemical attack and better support the opposition.
Hollande sounded a more cautious note than earlier in the week, when he said France stood ready to punish those behind the apparent poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in Damascus.
He indicated that France was looking to Gulf Arab countries to step up their military support to the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, after Paris said this week it would do so.
Not exactly the saber rattling that was going on a few days ago. It appears a “political solution” may be code words for “yeah, we’re climbing down too.”
Don’t expect a climbdown here. At least not anytime soon. Not only has President Obama said he doesn’t need Congress’s approval, he’s also decided he doesn’t need to inform the American people of his decision via a televised Oval Office announcement. However he would like the cover of a coalition (my, the shadenfreude here is delicious, isn’t it?).
If one had to guess, however, any strike this week would be sans the British and the French. And that may be enough to delay an American strike (don’t forget, President Obama claims he hasn’t made a decision yet).
Meanwhile in the Med, tensions spiral up as Russia decides to flex a little naval muscle in the area:
Russia will “over the next few days” be sending an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to the Mediterranean as the West prepares for possible strikes against Syria, the Interfax news agency said on Thursday.
“The well-known situation shaping up in the eastern Mediterranean called for certain corrections to the make-up of the naval forces,” a source in the Russian General Staff told Interfax.
Interesting. And, if the strikes don’t happen now, who will claim to have helped call the coalition’s bluff?
As with most things concerning foreign affairs that this administration involves itself, this is turning into a debacle of major proportion.