You don’t need to be a foreign affairs expert to judge how feckless the president is on his Syria policy. He seems to have adopted the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt’s “speak softly but carry a big stick” approach. He talks tough. But then…dithers. Newspapers, blogs and television programs are full of this criticism, from both those who support U.S. action in Syria and those who oppose it, from his usual cheerleaders and his entrenched opponents.
This BuzzFeed article takes a look at the outrage from Frederic Hof, former State Department point person on Syria:
“The events of the past ten days suggest that there was no administration forethought to the possibility of a major chemical incident in Syria,” wrote Hof, currently a fellow at the Atlantic Council, where his former boss is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Hof had floated the specter of a chemical attack by the regime months ago.
“The results of this mystifying lack of preparedness have been abysmal,” he wrote, calling Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for the strikes “constitutionally sound, but strategically appalling” and suggesting the White House find “an objectives-based strategy.”
And this Politico piece by Elliot Abrams, (aptly titled “How Not to Run a Foreign Policy”), who supports some sort of U.S. action in Syria, is just as seriously critical:
In 2007, when Israel struck the Syrian nuclear reactor then under construction, Israel and the United States engaged in elaborate and successful efforts to maintain secrecy until decisions were made and the strike finally launched. Why? Because it was obvious that Syrian President Bashar Assad could take such steps as putting human hostages (foreigners, political prisoners, or children, for example) at the site if he discovered our intentions. Now we have given him weeks to take steps to protect the chemical weapons-related sites in this manner, and to move the materials to new locations. The president said this would make no difference, providing this evidence: Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has “indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive.”
First of all, what mission is that?
Abrams also goes on to point out that the president will have a hard time rallying Republicans to his policy, whatever it is, because of his reckless name-calling of them during the past four and a half years:
I share the resentment, as a former Bush White House staffer. I recall very well the accusations of “unilateralism” that Democrats, including then-Senator Obama, hurled at us — when we intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq armed with congressional votes, U.N. Security Council resolutions, and broad coalitions of dozens of nations. Now Obama has destroyed those coalitions, and seeks approval to use force with one sole ally at hand, France, and without any U.N. vote.
The cynicism of that tweet is boundless. It implies that Congress’s desire to weigh in on Syria is motivated by political gamesmanship while at the same time it signals the president’s men are licking their chops to make political hay from those who vote no.
Congress has been given mixed messages from the president; they have no clear idea of what our mission would be in Syria beyond an ineffective rap on Assad’s knuckles (that would likely harm or kill innocents he uses as human shields), and now they’re picking up a whiff of political games-playing from someone who knows the president well.
Until the president presents a real plan with solid objectives that make sense, who can vote yes or no in good conscience? When the vote is taken, just say “present.”
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.