“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.” – Barack Obama, August 20, 2012.
“First of all, I didn’t set a red line; the world set a red line….Congress set a red line….” – Barack Obama, September 4, 2013.
I was wrong about Barack Obama. He’s not another Jimmy Carter, he’s a presidential Bart Simpson. His current, desperate effort to blame “anyone else” for his failure to impress Syrian President Bashir Assad on the question of chemical weapons is only the latest evidence of his incompetence in international relations and his dangerous unconcern about the effects thereof. This president’s inability to successfully manage our country’s foreign policy is a threat to our well-being; the time has come for adult leadership in Congress to take the reins.
It’s not just presidential irresolution, although that’s bad enough. When the putative leader of the free world, the heir to Ronald Reagan, threatens action but cannot bring himself to move when faced with intransigence and butchery from a banana republic tyrant; when after “taking a walk” he backtracks with a plan transparently intended to shift the blame for whatever happens to his opponents in Congress, thus mortgaging the prestige and security of the United States for domestic political gain; when he blames “the world” for his own missteps and inaction; ladies and gentlemen, we are in deep excrement.
We saw this Wednesday last, when Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The most bizarre testimony was Secretary Kerry’s, arguing that the president’s red line was not really his red line, although he “drew a line that anyone should draw” regarding use of chemical weapons. He also maintained that Islamic extremism was not growing in the Syrian resistance and that “President Obama is not asking America to go to war.” The people on the receiving end of a multi-day cruise missile attack might disagree. “America’s credibility is on the line,” surely enough. But not for the reasons Secretary Kerry asserted.
Another chilling remark was made by JCS Chief Dempsey who, when asked by Senator Bob Corker about the objectives of the proposed operation, was at least truthful: “I can’t answer that, what we’re seeking.” If our chief military officer can’t explain the objective of this operation, maybe we ought to wait until he can.
Perhaps the president thought his power trio would be persuasive. Instead, they exposed the bluster for what it was: an ill-thought-out, fumbling effort to save the president’s image and stick his political foes with responsibility for any failure. He might as well have sent Larry, Moe and Curly.
And the world knows it. The past week has seen world leaders back away from the president’s saber-rattling the way commuters react to a three-month-off-his-meds homeless person having a heated discussion with two visitors from planet Mondo on a subway platform. Except for Vladimir Putin. He preferred to walk up and slap the guy across the face with a sturgeon.
In a pre–G-20 press conference in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, Russia’s irrepressible president was asked a question about Secretary Kerry’s testimony and impending U.S. action against Bashir Assad. It wasn’t a long response, and it boiled down to “John Kerry’s a liar.” This from a man who knows something about lying. Not an auspicious welcome for Barack Obama — “reset” or no.
All of this is not only embarrassing, it’s a waste. There’s a way to make an impression on Bashir Assad, but it’s not the Bill Clintonesque use of million-dollar cruise missiles to destroy long-emptied warehouses. Instead, use them to destroy the runways and infrastructure of Mr. Assad’s air forces. This would not only cripple one of his main offensive tools, it would make aerial resupply from Iran and Russia more difficult. Couple this with a real effort to channel weapons to the secular Syrian opposition, now sidelined by two years of neglect. Speak privately with anti-Hezbollah forces in the government of Lebanon about what they would require to roll up Shaikh Nasrallah’s private army. This would actually serve our national interest, at minimum risk and expense.
It won’t happen, because doing this requires finesse, tact and silence from an Administration incapable of any of these. Instead, expect more empty bombast, more political gamesmanship and more blaming of “anyone else.” And the national interest be damned.
For three more long years, anyway.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.