And they’re saying this with a straight face, over at The Daily Beast. According to Josh Rogin and Eli Lake, President Obama went from 60 to 0 on air strikes against Syria this week because “his own team couldn’t agree on a strategy.”
There were deep divisions inside the administration’s deliberations over Syria. One set of officials advocated for a campaign to decimate ISIS in both countries by striking ISIS targets across Syria. This camp pushed for hitting near Aleppo where they are advancing, and with at least some coordination with the moderate Syrian rebels. The group, which included officials from State Department, intelligence community and some parts of the military, came up with extensive targeting options for the president that included not only ISIS military assets, but their infrastructure, command and control, and their financial capabilities. Even the oil pipelines they use to export crude for cash were on the target list.
Another group of officials — led by White House and National Security staffers but also including some intelligence and military officials — favored a more cautious approach that spurned any cooperation with the Free Syrian Army and focused strikes inside Syria on targets near the Iraqi border. The objective: cut off ISIS supply lines to Iraq. That strategy would fall more squarely within the existing limited missions that Obama has already outlined for his war.
Inside the intelligence community, there is a dispute about whether the Free Syrian Army, which has been fighting ISIS in Syria all year with little international support, can be a reliable partner for any military mission inside Syria.
Well, sure. If your advisors don’t agree, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t make decisions while your advisors are divided. Especially if they’re divided mainly over the scope your operations should have: some think you should do more; some think you should do less. Granted, they all think you should do something. But they’re not in agreement on how much that something should be. You’d have to, like, tell them what you want to achieve, and direct them to plan with that in mind, to break the impasse. Instead of having your decision made for you by your advisors, you’d have to – well, you’d have to make it yourself.
No leader could overcome such obstacles. It’s a good thing, for example, that Abraham Lincoln’s advisors were never that divided in their counsel. Imagine if FDR had had to fight in World War II with counselors who disputed so much. Just think where we’d be now if Ronald Reagan had had to deal with advisors who argued over means and methods.
The whole American project could never have gotten started, if the men of 1776 hadn’t all been in exact agreement as to how to fight, and how much, and where and when.
The amazing thing to me is that Obama just keeps getting every possible break from the media. If George W. Bush were unable to decide to what to do, the mainstream media would be calling for his head. Every article would lead off with criticism – quotes and allegations from critics – and you’d have to read three-quarters of the way through to find an unvarnished statement actually originating from the Bush administration.
But for Obama, the most “serious” and “respectable” news people seem willing to present themselves as credulous naïfs, unable to think through the lamest of excuses.
Incidentally, Obama did decide what to do.
His remarks came after days of heated debate inside the top levels of his own national security bureaucracy about how, where, and whether to strike ISIS in Syria. But those deliberations – which included a bleak intelligence assessment of America’s potential allies in Syria — failed to produce a consensus battle plan. And so Obama, who has long been reluctant to enter into the Syrian conflict, told reporters Thursday that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting ISIS on a regional level.
Because that’s how it works, when you’re the chief executive and the commander in chief. Even when you don’t decide, you do.