Was it just me or did Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on Syria today feel like a Friday news dump? It came a few hours earlier in the day than the usual Beltway shoo, but it did come on the last significant Friday of summer, ahead of a weekend most Americans will spend doing anything but paying attention to news from the Middle East other than swearing at the gas pump. Many Americans on the East Coast will have already taken the afternoon off, mentally if not actually.
Secretary of State Kerry made the case for war, which raised one major question in my mind: Where was President Obama? At that point the White House had not announced that Obama would follow Kerry. We soon learned that he would deliver remarks during a meeting with Baltic region leaders.
Why two speeches? Why not, I guess. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel apparently failed to make the cut.
Obama spoke briefly in the recorded message, took no questions, rambled a bit, and resumed his meeting. Nothing to see here, no final decisions, no boots on the ground, no regime change. No meaningful action to change Assad’s behavior.
After the speeches, all signs now point to unilateral US military action. Kerry said that the Syria strike will not resemble Iraq or Afghanistan, and he’s obviously right: Unlike those previous wars, the Syria strike will not have public approval, congressional approval, UN approval, a coalition of nations fighting alongside us, and a clear military objective.
Obama will travel to Russia to begin the G-20 summit Tuesday. Given international opposition to military action in Syria, and in particular Russia’s opposition, Obama will want the action done and dusted by the time the summit kicks off. So we’ll be holiday weekend warriors, letting politics and the calender drive a military move that is designed not to change the facts on the ground.
The action itself, the Obama administration has already described as “limited” and a “shot across the bow.” John Bolton pointed out on Fox that shots across the bow are missed shots — by definition. If you’re shooting across the bow, you’re just warning your adversary. You’re not actually hurting him. The Middle East doesn’t respond well to shots across bows. Assad will be strengthened just by surviving. Russia will quickly step in to replace any military hardware our expensive smart bombs destroy.
In this case — outsourcing the substantive speech to Kerry, scheduling the unilateral non-war across the Labor Day weekend — one could be forgiven for thinking that Barack Obama is nothing more than a overpowerd coward whose own words on war mean absolutely nothing to him.