Tough love. But without the love.
There was one moment in President Obama’s world-weary press conference last Tuesday when he seemed genuinely interested and engaged. At the very end, when Obama had already begun to depart the podium, a reporter shouted a question about the previously obscure but now famously gay NBA center, Jason Collins. Obama returned to the podium and was animated as he expressed his pride in Collins: “I told him I couldn’t be prouder of him. . . . And I think America should be proud. . . . So I’m very proud of him.”
In the meantime, between his hoop-shooting and golf-playing expeditions and his expositions on the social significance of sports, the president does have a day job. At the press conference he implicitly acknowledged that his job performance on Syria hasn’t been all that great. “What’s happening in Syria,” he said, “is a blemish on the international community generally.” But Barack Obama claims to be nothing if not a leader of “the international community.” So a blemish on the international community is a blemish on the presidency of Barack Obama.
Indeed, when it comes to Syria, even Barack Obama couldn’t claim that there’s much to be proud of: After two years of posturing and vacillating, of big talk and no action, of portentous but unenforced warnings, 75,000 people have died, Bashar al-Assad has remained in power and used chemical weapons, turmoil has spread to neighboring countries and the region has become increasingly unstable and dangerous, and America’s credibility lies in tatters.
Kristol gets in a couple more sharp digs about Collins and basketball which serve to highlight that the president is good at looking cool and concerned to his mindless cult of personality but, over four years into this, remains hopelessly out of his league when it comes to foreign policy.
But Obama may still act. Despite the wavering red line he seems to have laid down, Obama still maintains his earlier position that the (appropriately verified and confirmed, chain-of-custody and all) use of chemical weapons “would be a game-changer,” a phrase he repeated three times at his press conference, and elaborated on once: “That is a game-changer because what that portends is potentially even more devastating attacks on civilians, and it raises the strong possibility that those chemical weapons can fall into the wrong hands and get disseminated in ways that would threaten U.S. security or the security of our allies.”
So what is to be done? The options are far worse than they were two years ago. But Barack Obama must know that in the rough world of Middle East politics, as in the rough world of NBA basketball with which he seems more familiar, a game-changer unresponded-to results in a changed game. It results in defeat.
President Obama’s “Just elect me and the world will love us” foreign policy pitch in 2008 (which got a generous assist from his press monkeys) has been the nightmare any sane person knew it would be. Don’t mention that to an attendee to the court of The Idiot King, however. He or she will begin screaming “He came down from Heaven and slew the wicked bin Laden with a lightning bolt!” over and over, conflating one coordinated military and intelligence operation that began under the Bush administration with foreign policy.
But, hey, empathy or something.