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Off the Hook in Syria

Syrians with Russian assistance appear to have found a way to save Obama from launching missiles.

By 9.10.13

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So much for the long-anticipated U.S.-Syrian smasheroo, with missiles and accusations flying through the air. The whole thing appears, unexpectedly, to have ended before properly beginning. Or at least we are entitled to guess that on the basis of Monday developments.

The Syrians, with an assist from the Russians, appear to have saved the day, along with the political hide, such as it is, of the president of the United States.

Syria's tentative interest in putting its chemical weapons stocks under international supervision places within President Obama's reach the straw for which he has been grasping -- a way to seem in charge of events without really being in charge at all; a way to change a conversation he started inadvertently a year ago.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who mentioned offhandedly the possibility of Syrian agreement to such an expedient -- "Sure, he could turn over every bit of his chemical weapons to the international community ... " -- added immediately that it wouldn't work. "[I]t can't be done," he said.

Except in an emergency? Like now? With Congress unlikely to authorize a U. S. strike against the Syrians, and the world anxious over what might come of such an event, the White House promises a "hard look" at the notion of an international guardian -- the UN? -- for Syria's chemical weapons stocks. The Syrians are interested -- why shouldn't they be if finding common ground with their American adversaries heads off an attack? Russia, Syria's patron, is on board as well. The British would find such an outcome "hugely welcome." It remains for Obama to claim success with pressure tactics that have averted war. A president who loves to claim success may be expected to do precisely this.

That the Syrians, at the same time, can be counted on to drag feet, conceal, prevaricate, cover up and do whatever else they can to thwart inspection has to be taken for granted. At least there won't be a war, right? Apart, anyway, from the war of rebellion responsible already for taking the lives of 100,000 Syrians.

The likely cessation of almost-hostilities gives Americans and their leaders the unlooked-for chance to talk about what the United States should stand for in the 21st century. We can count on our present president not to offer much for consumption. The much-touted political genius of Barack Obama consists partly in contented sailing in troubled foreign waters while at home the really big business of income redistribution goes forward.

Looking abroad, Obama appears to lack passion for either peace or freedom. He got his tail in the Syrian crack with an impromptu line about chemical weapons and supposed red lines as he sought to show a little leg in foreign policy.

Polls show the country overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of America as world policeman in a Syrian context: nearly two-thirds, according to USA/Pew Research, and three of five opposed in surveys by CNN/Opinion Research and Rasmussen Reports. A little leadership from the top would help clarify the bad choices -- support the president or oppose him -- into which we had drifted prior to spying the lifesaver tossed our way by the Syrians and Russians.

That the Obama administration has put forth the most incoherent foreign policies of any administration since World War II is partly the White House's fault and partly not. Barack Obama won his first term with a promise to be the Anti-Bush. It was enough for us, apparently, that he said so. We bought into it by electing him National No. 1.

We bought the squealiest, squirmiest pig ever stuffed in a presidential poke and invited him to keep us safe and prosperous in whatever way he chose. With our president arrayed as a guarantor of America's right not to do much of anything in behalf of freedom, we never saw it coming. But, oh, it's here now, with three years left in the presidential term of Barack Obama to find out how America, and the world, still like it. 

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About the Author

William Murchison is a Dallas-based columnist for Creators Syndicate. His latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.