WASHINGTON — It was one of the most comic, presidential moments in recent American history: President Barack Obama’s solitary walk across the South Lawn of the White House. Supposedly it made history.
I would put it right up there with President Bill Clinton’s solitary walk down Normandy beach in 1994. The sun is setting. The great man stands alone (in his baggy suit). The bluffs made historic by our soldiery in World War II are on one side of this famous draft dodger and the sea dotted with warships is on his other side. Bill becomes reflective. Then, ever so perceptibly, he panics. Three network cameras are whirring, dozens of photographer’s cameras are click-clicking, and Bill has completely drawn a blank as to what he is to do next. He glances down in the sand and catches himself. He espies the stones that have been carefully laid in his path by his clever advance personnel and, ah ha, he falls to his knees! He arranges them in a cross! He composes himself as in prayer! Perhaps he is thinking of a callipygian rump he glimpsed half an hour ago. Surely his advance men had the sense to get her name. At any rate, the columnist Maureen Dowd captured the scene for the New York Times before she too went over to the dark side.
As for our community organizer who is the acting president of the United States, he did not actually galumph across the South Lawn in total solitude. He left his blood-thirsty advisors back in the White House and strutted for forty-five minutes with his Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Moreover, no advance team left stones in his path. His walk was not that well planned. Actually it was pretty muggy out there on the lawn, but the President and his Chief of Staff kept right on trucking. Back at the White House all of his advisors, save perhaps for senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, thought his mind was made up. He was going to attack Syria without a congressional vote. Secretary of State Jean-François Kerry had even given the most bellicose speech in his whole life. Yet upon finishing his walk a sweaty Prophet Obama dialed up his advisors and told them the attack would await Congress’s leisurely return from holiday. The next day he told the nation. Not even an early morning bath would dissuade him.
President Assad was exultant. He declaimed of a sudden that Syria “is capable of confronting any external aggression.” Within hours those of his elite military units that had hunkered down expecting the worst had returned to their strongholds, for instance on Mt. Kassioun where they resumed their artillery attacks on the rebels. The Americans might never arrive. Dunya TV, a state television channel roughly comparable to Iraq’s Baghdad Bob, began broadcasting that two United States warships had defected, its crews in a panic over Syria’s sudden military might.
What we have just seen is the work of an utter amateur trying to be the president of the United States. Barack Obama ran for the presidency promising to be the perfect multilateralist president. No longer would America go it alone. He would form a worldwide coalition before taking military action. As a candidate he blabbered on about colonialism as though the Western world were thirsting for African and South American colonies. He denounced intervention in foreign countries, especially American intervention. Now he is advocating what amounts to unilateralism and intervening in foreign lands with no particular purpose. He wants to hurt President Assad not much more. He is a hypocrite but on behalf of what I cannot say.
Barack Obama operates from no grand strategy. What he will do next no one can say. He is a total amateur and he is going to be president for almost forty more months. At least we can count on many more great moments of presidential comedy.