I suppose that whatever eventually comes of the entire Syria mess, we’ll at least have been treated to the surreal spectacle of John Kerry and other erstwhile peaceniks suddenly subscribing to many of the ideas they found so offensive when, once upon a time, they were applied in opposition to communism or Saddam Hussein.
It was quietly satisfying to watch Kerry, now secretary of state, during his recent appearances before House and Senate committees doing his best Oliver North and Dick Cheney impressions after his theatrical antics 42 years ago in his first parade before a congressional committee.
It was nearly as satisfying as watching President Barack Obama announce his discovery the United Nations can’t organize a beer summit in a brewery.
As entertaining as the newly adopted hawkishnish of the left is, the situation that germinated it is anything but. Serious issues are at play in Syria. Unfortunately, they’re being handled by officials who appear woefully underequipped to do so.
There is a case to made for American military intervention in Syria. It’s not easy or wise to ignore the use of weapons of mass destruction by a country that’s been at best adversarial towards the United States and her allies for at least the past 30 years; has a history of harboring and training some of the world’s worst terrorist groups; and is closely allied with Iran, whose own even more robust WMD program makes it America’s principle national security concern today.
The problem, however, is that the people into who’s laps this mess has fallen have proven themselves over and over again to be hopelessly inept at dealing with foreign affairs.
President Obama in particular is clearly uncomfortable with even the idea of military potency and its application. This is a problem considering he’s commander in chief of the world’s most potent military.
To be perfectly clear, this isn’t a case of the president having cautious, prudent respect for the incredible weight of American power he ostensibly commands. It is the product of an ingrained contempt for it. So now that he’s responsible for wielding that power, where the real world and its consequences have replaced Gore Vidal sermons and Noam Chomsky essays, he hasn’t the foggiest idea how to employ it. Think about it: If you lived your entire life loathing football, you’d probably make a pretty lousy head coach in the NFL.
Well that’s where we are in regards to Syria. Really, it’s a metaphor for the entire Obama foreign policy experience — confused incompetence, missed opportunities, ever darkening situations spiraling farther away from control, directionless bouncing from one crisis to another. The failures represented by the Syria mess are many: a failure to support the Iranian people’s “Green Revolution” a few years back; a failure to gain any kind of influence early on with the moderate elements of the Syrian opposition, before radicalized Islamist factions filled the leadership vacuum; a failure to properly rebuild the nation’s intelligence community after it was emasculated in the late 1970s, leaving us with little knowledge of what’s happening on the ground; and, mostly, a failure to establish a clear objective for U.S. policy in the region.
The president’s abrupt decision to seek congressional approval for his “shot across Syria’s bow” is not indicative of any newfound constitutional fealty or an urge to be transparent. He has the authority, as exercised by presidents since Thomas Jefferson (whose Constitutional bona fides are, I submit, well established), to order a strike if he deems it in the national interest. He’s merely tossing the potato to Congress to provide himself political cover for something that he (and most of his base) simply lacks the stomach and wherewithal to do properly.
There are decent, logical arguments both for and against military intervention. What Obama seems to propose is the worst possible avenue. If military force is warranted, identify the threat; set an achievable, definitive goal; and then use all the power and rage necessary to achieve that goal and deter retaliation. You don’t make irresponsible off-the-cuff statements with no intention of following through on them, flounder for weeks, leak target lists and prattle on about how limited and essentially undamaging your venture will be. For heaven’s sake, you don’t risk American lives on a meaningless gesture.
No less an authority than the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher offered the following sage advice in her outstanding book aptly titled “Statecraft:” “Don’t believe that military interventions, no matter how morally justified, can succeed without clear military goals.” But delineating a clear objective, decisively accomplishing it and preparing for any consequence all require a respect for American power and purpose that Obama lacks. That’s why, no matter how Congress votes on granting the use of force, the Syrian situation is unlikely to end happily.