Olympus Has Fallen
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.
But Putin's not giving him any room to pivot, swarming all over him like an NBA defensive master, yet with enough time to spare to become the latest op-ed contributor to the New York Times. Now Maureen can call her colleague "Vlad": "Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unusual and direct appeal to the American people Wednesday night to reject President Obama's calls for possible use of force against Syria." Putin displayed a disturbing cogency and enviable competence that stood in stark contrast to the awkward pirouettes performed by the man formerly known as the Lightworker.
But the process of collapse is not over yet. The Washington Post notes that Putin has lost no time driving a wedge between the hapless Obama and his Gulf allies: "U.S. ties in Persian Gulf at risk as Obama allows space for Russian-Syrian plan." The administration countered in the usual half-hearted manner -- with a press release touting the claim that weapons are at last reaching the Syrian rebels. But as the Washington Post notes, the "weapons" turn out to be the weakest available, along with non-lethal equipment:
The arms shipments, which are limited to light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked, began arriving in Syria at a moment of heightened tensions over threats by President Obama to order missile strikes to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons in a deadly attack near Damascus last month.
The arms are being delivered as the United States is also shipping new types of nonlethal gear to rebels. That aid includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits.
As if to underline the difference in earnestness, Russia also announced the provision of S-300 antiaircraft missiles from Iran.
Assad scathingly called Obama not a president but the head of a social media network. One can only hope that Obama's latest counteroffensive does not go astray, and that Russia doesn't seize yet another misbegotten move by Barry -- to use Maureen's new endearment -- to turn the tables on him yet again. Jennifer Rubin writes on Twitter: "if this were a Little League game the mercy rule would be invoked for Obama." David Burge (known as Iowahawk) adds: "Putin now just basically doing donuts in Obama's front yard."
No, the man known as President Obama left the building after his Syria speech. What's left in the White House is Barry Soetoro or whatever he goes by now: a shrunken, confused husk surrounded by court jesters, second-rate ideologues, and sycophants. And while it may be tempting to gloat at his reversal of fortune, the truth is that the collapse of the presidency represents the most dangerous moment in America since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Olympus has fallen. America's leadership is functionally impaired in the face of a thrusting, fast-moving, and possibly brilliant opponent. Of course, the fact that Putin was up against a broken reed made it easier for him. Yet however one may admire Putin's skills, it must be an admiration tempered by fear, of the kind felt by the British 8th Army in the face of Rommel, of the sort with which Gamelin regarded Guderian. Nothing can disguise the fact that Putin is the enemy and America is less-than-competently led in its contest against him. Something must be done to stem the tide. But what?
As Lee Smith put it in the Weekly Standard: "Putin didn't save Obama. He beat him. The United States is being escorted out of the Middle East." Assad may have just won the civil war against the rebels. And the Iranian nuclear weapon is now probably unstoppable. Alan Dershowitz, that most loyal of Obama's supporters, now understands the truth -- Israel is alone:
I think the Israelis have basically lost trust in the Americans when it comes to Iran. I think this increases the likelihood that Israel will have to go to it alone. What it says to the Israelis is that the president can’t declare red lines and can’t respond to the crossing of red lines.
He might have added that America is everywhere wide open. Unless people are prepared to see everything go over the cliff, then some means of recovery must be found. In 1940, very few people -- including Winston Churchill -- understood how Blitzkrieg worked. Churchill, watching in disbelief as France literally fell apart, broadcast this reassuring speech:
It would be foolish, however, to disguise the gravity of the hour. It would be still more foolish to lose heart and courage or to suppose that well-trained, well-equipped armies numbering three or four millions of men can be overcome in the space of a few weeks, or even months, by a scoop, or raid of mechanized vehicles, however formidable. We may look with confidence to the stabilization of the Front in France.
Not long after, the armies "of three and four millions" capitulated. But France was not being defeated in the flesh, it was being wiped out in the mind. The Germans were moving faster than the sclerotic French high command could comprehend. Their responses were outdated before they were begun. The Blitzkrieg was inside their OODA loop. And thus France fell faster than even Churchill could imagine.
And Obama is no Winston. Obama even sent back his bust to England as one of his first acts in office.
Putin has taken Barack Obama's Narrative apart and handed him the smoking pieces in a bucket. Barry doesn't even know how it happened, nor are his advisers any the wiser. Maybe it was a video. And anyway, "what difference does it make?" Obama may emerge from time to time, blinking in the unaccustomed light, seeking to respond in the only ways he knows how: with a speech; as a guest on Leno; firing a few desultory cruise missiles here or there at targets chosen not to matter; or to offer increasingly unaffordable amounts of money for "deals" that won't last. And none of it will work.
It remains to be seen whether Washington has the institutional depth to reconstitute itself in a crisis. But reconstitute it must. The current team in the White House is broken. Change must come if there is to be hope.
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