It’s a hot time in the old town tonight. The Strategy Page argues that protests have now grown beyond the capacity of the Damascus’ ability to suppress. Assad’s secret service found it simply doesn’t have the power to crush the opposition by main force. “So far, nearly two thousand people have died, over 10,000 injured and nearly as many arrested. About 15,000 have fled to Turkey and Lebanon. As soon as the secret police finish their arrests, beatings and murders in one village or neighborhood, the unrest pops up somewhere else. It is even showing up again after the secret police have already “pacified” a place.”
It is in a word, “bankrupt” and in consequence, Assad has made offers to implement “real change” that spring from a desire to talk his way out of a situation he cannot extricate himself from any other way. Even reinforcements from Lebanon and Iran have failed to turn the tide. “Apparently the Iranian security advisors, and their Hezbollah death squads from Lebanon, are being ignored. The use of foreigners to terrorize and kill Syrians proved very unpopular, and just made the protestors more determined.”
Syria’s weakness is manifesting itself in Hassan Nasrallah’s increasing stridency in Lebanon. He recently warned the Lebanese government to stop making pro-Western noises according to Caroline Glick. But it was a symptom of his patron’s weakness rather than strength. Nasrallah’s bluster came while they “moved hundreds of long-range Iranian-built Zilzal and Fajr 3 and Fajr 4 missiles from its missile depots in Syria to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The missile transfer was due to Hezbollah’s fear that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime is on the verge of being toppled.” Nasrallah is bracing himself for bad news in Damascus.
As interesting as the crisis besetting Syria and Iran is the increasing transformation of former ally Pakistan into an enemy in all but name. The Washington Post reported that US military aid to Islamabad has been suspended “to reflect its displeasure with that country’s lagging security cooperation” including a failure to renew the visas of US Special Forces personnel.
Delivery of additional items to the Pakistani military — night-vision goggles, helicopter spare parts, communications gear and counter-explosive equipment — has also been suspended.
U.S. officials said that in the case of some of the equipment, there was no point in sending it to Pakistan if U.S. trainers and technicians were not there to train local troops in its use. They indicated that the shipments would resume if the visa questions and other issues were resolved. …
“We don’t need trainers,” the official said, noting that the Pakistani military has trained the troops of more than a dozen nations. “We need the equipment. . . . These are all games.”
Tim Pawlenty at a speech in the Council of Foreign Relations, savagely noted that there is almost nothing left of President Obama’s policy of “engagement” with Iran and Syria in tones that were mocking, ironic and nearly full of contempt.
“Engagement” meant that in 2009, when the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election, and the people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue. His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels.
While protesters were killed and tortured, Secretary Clinton said the Administration was “waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes.” She and the president waited long enough to see the Green Movement crushed.
“Engagement” meant that in his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent. As one American democracy organization noted, this was “perceived by Egyptian democracy activists as signaling a lack of support.” They perceived correctly. It was a lack of support. …
The Obama “engagement” policy in Syria led the Administration to call Bashar al Assad a “reformer.” Even as Assad’s regime was shooting hundreds of protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plan to give Assad “an alternative vision of himself.” Does anyone outside a therapist’s office have any idea what that means? This is what passes for moral clarity in the Obama Administration.
By contrast, I called for Assad’s departure on March 29; I call for it again today. We should recall our ambassador from Damascus; and I call for that again today. The leader of the United States should never leave those willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where America stands. As President, I will not.
We need a president who fully understands that America never “leads from behind.”
There is very little left of the President’s sweeping initiatives anywhere one looks. The war in Afghanistan is ‘ending’ as a swap: Pakistan for Afghanistan with a possible net reduction of zero. CBS reports that Islamabad is now turning to China for arms. This came as the US indicated that there were alternatives to Pakistani airfields for drone operations. “If, for whatever reason, it was no longer available, there are certainly other ways to continue the program and to sustain the intense pressure it’s put on al Qaeda and its militant allies.”
The increasing estrangement came at a time when Islamabad has had to put down the worst riots in recent history. Karachi, a city of 8 million people exploded in violence that killed 93 people. “The latest spell of violence is extraordinary even by the standards of Karachi, a city that routinely witnesses more than 1,000 violent deaths a year, many of them targeted killings linked to political, ethnic and sectarian rivalries.” As if the Arab Spring weren’t enough of a conundrum, the prospect of a nuclear armed failed state began to raise its head in Southwest Asia.
In addition to the mounting unemployment problem facing the nation, events in the Muslim world coupled with possibly catastrophic economic developments in Europe suggest a rocky road ahead for the President. The good old days were when you only had to worry about North Korea or Iraq without having to stay up thinking about Japan’s weakness, the China Bubble, European Sovereign Default, the Arab Spring, the Mexican meltdown, Venezuelan instability and of course, the Deficit. Dark clouds closing in from almost every direction mean there will be lightning flashes over the White House at an ever-increasing tempo. It was almost as if President were cursed with the Mierdas Touch, which turns every flowering possibility into disaster.
This bad luck, or bad leadership style has been the object of analysis for some time. In 2010 Eleanor Clift at Newsweek began to talk about President Obama’s “failure of leadership”. She believed his training as a “community organizer” rather than as a CEO was now revealing its weaknesses. Clive Crook at the Financial Times argued that the President’s desire to be perceived as leading at all costs undermined his ability to fight a strategic corner, even his own. In debt ceiling negotiations with John Boehner, Crook quoted sources who accused the President of putting form over substance.
Many Democrats concluded that Mr Obama was preparing to reward the enemy, yet again, for its obduracy. With no shred of intellectual justification, and controlling just one house of Congress, the Republicans say, “No tax increases, ever” – and Mr Obama, instead of resisting, moves three-quarters of the way toward their position. Merely for the sake of appearing to take charge, he all but surrenders.
And why not? Isn’t spin everything? Doesn’t spin trump reality? Well maybe not, but that belief may be the ultimate consequence of political skills learned by campaigning, not through governance. Being all things to all men may be a good way to get votes, but it is a hell of a way to run a railroad. The way Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post put it was that politicians, including President Obama, had the unfortunate tendency to promise unfulfillable promises to everybody.
The left has convinced itself that not a cent of scheduled benefits can be touched. “Any politician of either party that messes with Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid will feel the wrath of voters in the next election,” thundered Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America’s Future. “Americans do not want the bedrock programs that support their parents to be part of a deficit-reduction package.” Oh, please. This is tantamount to saying that Americans do not want a serious deficit-reduction package.
The default mode of Washington leadership has long been to “kick the can down the road”, to solve one set of problems by announcing a new initiative or program that will cut the Gordian Knot someday. Now that they are running out of road, politicians are learning, like Assad in Damascus, that there are limits to how long you can put off making hard choices or disappointing some groups before time’s up. Ultimately Assad, Nasrallah and even Obama are going to have to decide who their friends are or what to spend on. What they will choose is something nobody wants to think of just yet. Until then, one more day, one more promise.