Belmont Club

The Dog Ate My Homework

A number of articles examine the reasons why Barack Obama got into his current foreign policy fix. Powerline argues he let Turkey and Qatar run his Syria policy whenever he wasn’t taking his cue from Saudi Arabia. His best buddies were going to handle Syria for him. And they’re still at it. The Kingdom has rolled out the big guns for the final push. CIA has come to the conclusion, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Saudis think Assad needs one more shove to nudge him over the edge because they’ve put Prince Bandar in charge of boosting the rebels.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar—for two decades one of the most influential deal makers in Washington as Saudi ambassador but who had largely disappeared from public view—is now reprising his role as a geopolitical operator. This time it is to advance the Saudi kingdom’s top foreign-policy goal, defeating Syrian President Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

Bandar, the go-to-guy in Washington. The effect of these efforts has been more money and guns for the rebels through Turkey, as the Guardian recounts.

Rebel groups in Syria’s north say they have received their largest shipment of weapons yet, in a fillip to an anti-government campaign that had stalled for many months.

Leaders of militias supported by backers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar say several hundred tonnes of ammunition and a limited supply of light weapons were allowed across the Turkish border in the past three days, in what they said was the first large-scale re-supply since earlier this year.

The weapons are believed to have been sent by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and were warehoused in Turkey for many months. Senior rebel commanders contacted by the Guardian say they did not include anti-aircraft missiles, but several dozen anti-tank rockets were among them.

But Edward Luttwak, writing in the New York Times, asks what good the guns are if both sides are America’s enemies. He writes “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins”.

Indeed, it would be disastrous if President Bashar al-Assad’s regime were to emerge victorious after fully suppressing the rebellion and restoring its control over the entire country. Iranian money, weapons and operatives and Hezbollah troops have become key factors in the fighting, and Mr. Assad’s triumph would dramatically affirm the power and prestige of Shiite Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanon-based proxy — posing a direct threat both to the Sunni Arab states and to Israel.

But a rebel victory would also be extremely dangerous for the United States and for many of its allies in Europe and the Middle East. That’s because extremist groups, some identified with Al Qaeda, have become the most effective fighting force in Syria. If those rebel groups manage to win, they would almost certainly try to form a government hostile to the United States. Moreover, Israel could not expect tranquillity on its northern border if the jihadis were to triumph in Syria.

True, all true. But you can imagine how persuasive Bandar and Erdogan might be alone with Obama. The tea, exotic furnishings, lapses into a foreign language, the confidences, anecdotes, the intimation of secret knowledge they’re willing to confide in him. Like nothing you would get from a Mormon or a mid-Western plumber. Why he has the inside track! Unfortunately that whispered policy has led to catastrophe.  Julie Pace writing for AP describes the disappointment the President must be feeling.  “For Obama, world looks far different than expected”.  It’s not working. He the expected a place on Mount Rushmore but finds himself and the country he leads shrunken on the international stage.

Nearly five years into his presidency, Barack Obama confronts a world far different from what he envisioned when he first took office. U.S. influence is declining in the Middle East as violence and instability rock Arab countries. An ambitious attempt to reset U.S. relations with Russia faltered and failed. Even in Obama-friendly Europe, there’s deep skepticism about Washington’s government surveillance programs.

…”The president has not had a long-term strategic vision,” said Vali Nasr, who advised the Obama administration on foreign policy in the first term and now serves as dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “They’re moving issue to issue and reacting as situations come up.”…

But the perception of a president lacking in international influence extends beyond the Arab world, particularly to Russia. Since reassuming the presidency last year, Vladimir Putin has blocked U.S. efforts to seek action against Syria at the United Nations and has balked at Obama’s efforts to seek new agreements on arms control….

Michael O’Hanlon, a national security analyst at The Brookings Institution, said the president miscalculated in assuming that a few signs of improved ties would be enough to overcome years of distrust with the Russians.

Obama’s responses to adversity have been typical. It must be Rush Limbaugh’s fault. His handlers apply euphemisms like ‘miscalculated’, ‘unexpected’ or ‘difficult’ as synonyms for the unutterable word ‘blunder’. Or else the tame press argue that America’s influence in the world was bound decline anyway and Obama’s made the best of a bad hand inherited from Bush.

More than a year ago Peter Beinart led the way by writing that the “Egypt Policy Shows How Well Obama Has Managed America’s Decline”. Time concluded that “Egypt No Longer Matters. It’s time for Washington to recognize that Cairo is not the center of the Arab world” after Morsi was thrown out of Egypt. The Washington Post talked down the current spat with Russia by arguing they are so minor as to be inconsequential. “They [Russia] just don’t care enough about those disagreements to go through the trouble of fixing them … It’s just not the priority.”

It’s gone from denial to outright lying. To quote Hillary Clinton “what difference does it make” if everything’s all fouled up? But the blatant stupidities are starting to worry even Colin Powell who says there’s no point to acting in Syria without knowing who you’re helping.

“I have no affection for Assad,” Powell told Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” while mentioning he knows the Syrian president and has personally dealt with him. “He’s a pathological liar.”

However, Powell said, “I am less sure of the resistance. What do they represent? Is it becoming even more radicalized with more al Qaeda coming in, and what would it look like if they prevailed and Assad went? I don’t know.”

That’s Common Sense 101, but the point is apparently one too difficult — or too simple — for the President to grasp. Obama is trapped by his own propaganda, the victim of his own myth. He came to power on the strength of his supposed genius; his messianic transcendance. He was destined to make the world America’s friend; usher in a world without nuclear weapons; and fundamentally transform the nation. He was even going to make the oceans fall. Why he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of achievements he had not yet even attained.

It is these expectations that weigh down on him like lead. Had Obama not made any of these vaunting boasts he might not look like the fool he is now. But as his speech on “Red Lines” exemplifies the teleprompter can write check his autopen doesn’t even know how to sign.

Perhaps the only remaining reason for striking Syria without first deciding policy is simply to demonstrate to low information voters that he’s still President; that he can still do something, even if that something is pointless. The dangers be damned.  Forbes says Russia is spelling it out for him, warning Obama not to “repeat ‘past mistakes’ in the Middle East when dealing with the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad. Washington said Assad used it before. Russia said they did not.”

This is a not so subtle way of reminding Obama that if WMDs can disappear from Iraq, they can disappear in Syria too. Al-Qaeda and/or Hezbollah will only be too glad to receive them.  It is also a way of saying that if Obama was the beneficiary of Russia’s disinformation against George Bush, Obama can be its victim too.

Russia’s warning underscores the need for President Obama to stop and take stock. Many words are whispered in the President’s ear. The Russians, Turks, Saudis, Qataris and even the Iranians may be running so many false flag operations that the President may unintentionally be doing their bidding. Rather than lashing out blindly, he should ask himself: what am I doing? Who am I working for?

And the unfortunate answer is: you work for guys like the mid-Western plumber. The folks who drive Fords, shop at Safeway’s and who may even own a gun or two. The people who elected you.

The fundamental weakness in Obama’s policy process was that he conducted it in secret. He was rife with secret plans; a secret plan to spread the Arab Spring; a classified “kill list”, a secret plan to suspend aid to Egypt, a secret surveillance system with secret courts, a secret wiretap on all of AP. A secret this and a secret that.

These were indications of an unwillingness to share power, as felt perhaps by a superior being contemptuous of Congress and the Supreme Court.

Obama’s compulsion to make decisions personally, to consult only himself and a few cronies, made policy making extraordinary vulnerable to the influence peddling of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other powerful lobbyists. It moved debate over major issues from the public sphere into backrooms where Bandar, Erdogan, Putin and Xi could work their magic. It’s true the President was advised by Valerie Jarrett, Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano, but even their sagacious advice proved unequal to the task.  Under the permissive gaze of the media the shift from policy making by constitutional processes to one by ignorant celebrity rule became complete.

Checks and balances were instituted for a reason, but the President felt he didn’t need them. He disabled the circuit breakers. Yet perhaps the fundamental reason why Barack Obama’s Syria policy is so broken is because he crafted it so narrowly; outside the venues provided by the Constitution, relying instead on his self-ascribed genius, a narrow set of advisers and so-called friends to steer him right. In the event they put him on the road to perdition.

Now, as the Navy nears Syria, he is even now trying to paint his way out of the corner in the same old defective way: with bluster, bluff and a sense of his own infallibility. If the past is prologue we know how his new Acme project will end. “It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the carpet ends. A little farther on there are only flagstones, and a little farther on still these break beneath your feet. … That is the position – that is the terrible transformation that has taken place bit by bit.”

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