Except for pundits like Andrew Sullivan who reacted to the president’s speech on Syria with delight (“That was one of the clearest, simplest and most moving presidential speeches to the nation I can imagine”), most people understood that the president left the building the moment he finished speaking. What’s left is Barack Obama, the sometime activist from Chicago. Sullivan stumbled on the truth by ending his adulatory article with this observation: “Yes, he’s still a community organizer. It’s just that now, the community he is so effectively organizing is the world.”
Fortunately, for almost everyone else the sad facts are plain enough. Maureen Dowd has even started calling him “Barry.” He’s the man who bought his political life from Putin at a staggering price. The Wall Street Journal observes that “Obama Rescues Assad.” Obama offered a deal “that could leave Assad in power for years,” according to the Times of London. The Washington Examiner says that Obama’s miscues “handed Russia the driver’s seat”; Foreign Affairs concurs.
Perhaps the most painful characterization of Obama’s incoherence came from the New York Times, which characterized his Syria address as follows: “Planned as a call to act, Obama’s speech became a plea to wait.”
It’s like he started for Canada and wound up in Mexico. This confusion was rapidly being sold as a “pivot” — notwithstanding the fact that the turnabout occurred in the same speech, almost as if Obama were surprising himself.
Joe Klein at Time latches on to the “pivot” metaphor like a drowning man to driftwood, and hopes its not too late for the president to keep turning. “The president’s uneven Syria response has damaged his office and weakened the nation. It’s time for one more pivot.”
Why not? He can hardly make things worse. Besides, if he pivots enough he’ll go clear around in a circle. Klein continues:
He willingly jumped into a bear trap of his own creation. In the process, he has damaged his presidency and weakened the nation’s standing in the world. It has been one of the more stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I’ve ever witnessed.
The public presentation of his policies has been left to the likes of Secretary of State John Kerry, whose statements had to be refuted twice by the president in the Syria speech. Kerry had said there might be a need for “boots on the ground” in Syria. (Obama: No boots.) Kerry had said the military strikes would be “unbelievably small.” (Obama: We don’t do pinpricks.)
Klein ends with a pathetic wistfulness for the days when Obama was imagined to bestride the world: “The sad thing is that Obama had been rebuilding our international stature after George W. Bush’s unilateral thrashing about.”
He rebuilt it all right — straight into the ground. Hence Klein’s need for one more pivot: “He [Obama] may make crisp decisions in the next overseas crisis,” and the old magic will be back.