Let’s count up the ways in which the Syria debate has exposed Barack Obama’s utter incompetence and lack of seriousness.
1. Failure to consult Congress. The Obama administration has built no consensus among Congress for any kind of strike. Generalissimo Pelosi wants a strike, but beyond her there is very little appetite for any U.S. action. Democrats are vocally skeptical. Republicans see a replay of Libya, just a couple of weeks before the first anniversary of the deadly attack in Benghazi. Even Dennis Kucinich is starting to make sense. There may be good reasons for striking Syria, but those reasons have not been articulated well or explained to Congress. So Congress in turn cannot explain the policy to their constituents.
2. Failure to get buy-in from the American people. Fully 80% of the American people want President Obama to obtain congressional approval before striking Syria. Only about 9% currently support a strike. But Obama’s failure to consult Congress until late in the game has probably left him too isolated to gain the approval and build up support. Now, a vote in Congress risks a replay of what happened in the UK Thursday — a down vote. That would be seen as a victory for Assad and Putin from Damascus to Tehran and well beyond, all the way to Caracas, Havana and Pyongyang.
3. No draft language for the UN to consider. Senator Obama warned against U.S. military action taken without United Nations approval. That’s a dubious standard — our military is our military, not France’s military. President Obama has learned (or is learning, hopefully) on the job that Russia likes to use its Security Council veto power to thwart American aims. Russia’s foreign policy is fundamentally amoral, and fundamentally about advancing its own interests — if it can do so at America’s expense, all the better. The Obama administration evidently has not even drafted any meaningful language for the UN Security Council to consider. Such language could have been used to put the Russians on the defensive to explain their veto, or at least isolate them, but without any draft language to consider, the UN is rudderless.
4. No military plan, no clear objective. What’s the plan for striking Syria, and what’s the plan for the aftermath of a strike? If anyone in the Obama national security team has any idea, they’re not saying. They have leaked and talked about timing and specific targets, but not about much beyond “punishing” Assad. How do you punish a man who is facing sure and humiliating death if he loses the civil war to his enemies, without putting those radical enemies in power? It would take a very deft hand to pull that off. There is no evidence of said deft hand at work in Obama’s Syria policy. In fact, there is no evidence that anyone in Obama’s national security team is thinking deeply at all.
5. Lack of credible spokes men and women to obtain buy-in from the American people and the press. The faces of Obama’s Syria war policy should not be his former campaign attack dogs. But the faces of the Syria policy so far have been Marie Harf and Jen Psaki at the State Department. Both of them hail from the Obama 2012 campaign. They both have one setting — defend their candidate and ruthlessly attack anyone who questions him. That’s fine for a campaign, but wholly inappropriate for a president leading his nation into what may blow up into a world war. They both come across as the hard-edged campaign operatives that they are, not the serious policy advocates that they need to be. Obama’s 2012 campaign operatives need to be sidelined in favor of career diplomats who have credibility among Democrats and Republicans on the Hill.
Now, we seem to be going it alone, and timing our attack to occur before Obama heads off to the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia next week. This isn’t military timing, it’s political timing. The headline talk of an attack is giving the Syrians time to plan their counters more effectively. They can move their targets, place human shields on them, equip Hizballah to threaten or attack Israel, and plan their propaganda following the strike.
This is foolishness. Dangerous foolishness.