There is not a great deal to say about President Obama’s speech. He delivered an address to sell an action he has no intention of taking, knowing that the American people, the Congress, and the world are against him. He seemed to visibly shrink while he delivered his 15-minute address.
Obama gets very little right these days. Two years ago he stuck his nose into Syria’s civil war by declaring that Assad must go. He said no such thing when Iranians demonstrated against their government and many of them died, in 2009. Why? His choice of conflicts in which to engage remains baffling. Yes to knock off Gaddafi, who posed no threat to the US, yes to knock off Mubarak, who was our ally, yes to knock off Assad, who again posed no threat to the US, but no to knocking off Assad’s puppet masters in Tehran, who do pose a growing threat to the US. Knock them off and you change everything.
A year ago Obama answered a hypothetical question regarding Assad’s possible use of weapons of mass destruction in a manner that was ill-advised and instantly put him and his credibility on the hook to act. Anyone who has ever engaged in communications professionally would coach against engaging hypothetical questions. There be dragons over that horizon. But Obama did, he declared a “red line” and here we are. A year later, he has put the credibility of the United States on the line because he unwisely engaged a hypothetical question and chose not to walk it back.
How should he have answered that question? Well, in the first place, he should not have made it US policy that Assad must go, after his lieutenants wined and dined Assad and called him a “reformer.” Assad was never a reformer and would never become one. He did nothing to earn that pat on the head from the United States. If anything emboldened Assad, it isn’t whatever happens after the alleged use of chemical weapons, it is how the Obama administration opened direct relations with Assad when he had done nothing to earn that honor. Obama’s election and re-election surely did more to embolden the Assads and Putins of the world than anything else.
But he did declare that Assad must go, and then he did engage the hypothetical question. After legitimizing Assad’s bloody rule. At every turn, Barack Obama has done the wrong thing.
So he is still doing the wrong thing, and making an illogical case in the process. He rightly decries the humanitarian toll in Syria’s civil war. It is terrible. But why only worry about the rebels, and not what the rebels are doing to the Christians there and what the Islamists are doing in Egypt? He says any US action would be so finely calibrated that it would not be a pin prick, because “the U.S. military doesn’t do pin pricks” he says (never mind how surgical the Special Forces can be) but not so great that it would topple Assad. But it would, somehow, degrade his ability to use chemical weapons. Without tipping the war any which way.
None of this makes any sense. The world does not work the way Obama seems to think it does. You cannot hand a thug some candy and be assured that he won’t mug you for your cash. You cannot intervene in a civil war, declaring that one side must go, then attack that side, without empowering the other side.
Now the Russians and Assad are playing Obama, and he seems to be fine with that as long as he can somehow save a scrap of face. There is no realistic way that Russia, supposing they even really want to be helpful, can possibly broker a deal that will fully account for and remove all of Assad’s chemical weapons in the middle of a civil war. Secretary of State John Kerry himself said that “it can’t be done.” Obama has taken what his own chief diplomat said “can’t be done” and hung his Middle East policy on it.
Obama gives a speech, he knocks off for the night, and pretends Benghazi never happened tomorrow. Assad will not go, unless he loses the civil war — Obama accepted Putin’s WMD lifeline, which legitimizes Assad again!
The world turns. America is diminished, because of the choices our president makes, and because of the choice a majority of Americans made to elect him.