The Obama Watch

Do Something, Even If It’s Wrong

Speak vaguely and ask Congress for a stick.

By 9.3.13

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Hardly for the first time, our confused and overmatched president has managed to be both indecisive and incoherent at the same time. Yet again Obama’s favorite phrase: “Let me be clear,” has been followed by the gauziest clutch of opaque non-sequiturs and irrelevancies. This time on the subject of the Syrian civil war and America's supposed need to stick its oar in. Those who are not confused by the President’s latest pronouncements are not paying attention.

Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister could probably parse what Obama has lately wrought. I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try: Obama says he sort of wants to go to war with, no, belay that, wants to do something sort of warlike, but not too warlike you understand, toward the current leadership in Syria. He wants to do this undisclosed but not too far-reaching and not too offensive thing because some time back he said the United States would take action if Bashar Assad started gassing his people instead of just bombing and shooting them.

The likely result of this undisclosed thing and the ways in which it makes things better for anyone involved are, well, we’ll have to get back to you later on that. But it seems to have something to do with Obama wishing to punish Assad for killing Syrians with gas by our killing more Syrians with American bombs or missiles. (I know, I know. I can’t connect these dots either.) Obama is so desperate, his plans so vague, that he spent part of his Labor Day afternoon trying to get John McCain and Lindsey Graham on board. Who these two are supposed to convince is as unclear as the policy itself. 

We must take this action, whatever it turns out to be, Obama says, because America’s credibility will be damaged if we don’t. Apparently word has not reached Obama that since shortly after he moved into 1600, America has had no credibility, and can’t get any back at the expense of a few Tomahawk missiles, assuming Tomahawks are what Obama has in mind. He also says Assad cannot be allowed to get away with gassing his citizens, though Assad’s bombing and shooting them for months on end has passed muster with Obama to this point. (By contrast, apparently, killing American officials in Benghazi can be allowed.)

Though Obama clearly has the authority to take military action in Syria, he says he’ll wait for Congress to return on the 9th to ask if it is OK with them that he proceed with, well, with whatever. This will give Obama plenty of time to evolve, as he is wont to do on so many things. At this writing, Obama’s policy on Syria has consistently been -- Tomorrow we’ll have a new policy.

That Obama is playing Mother-May-I with the Congress is a clear sign that he doesn’t want to do whatever it is he has in his mind to do, assuming even he knows what it is he wants. And of course it would be nice to have someone to share the blame when things go south. Obama routinely oversteps his authority by such as zeroing out immigration law and using the EPA to enforce energy policies the Congress has rejected. So if he wanted to take action in Syria he would just do it without waiting on or deferring to Congress. The best thing about Obama’s Syrian policy, to the extent anyone understands it, is that Obama doesn’t seem to want to implement it. Congress shouldn’t either.

Obama’s latest peccadilloes demonstrate once again that carin’ n’ compassionate Democrats becoming bellicose are not a pretty sight. When Democrats and assorted other lefties try to beat their plowshares into swords they just manage to look ridiculous. On the available evidence, they don’t know how to make love or war.

In his latest remarks, Obama has focused more on what he doesn’t want to accomplish militarily in Syria than what he does wish to accomplish (he is keeping this latter entirely to himself). No regime change. No American troops on the ground. No this. No that. What he seems to be contemplating is an “excuse me” military mission, one where no one gets hurt. War approved by OSHA and the Historical Preservation Commission.

How far we have sunk was brought home to me and millions of other sentient Americans through a news photo of our president and his National Security Council meeting last week to work out what America’s policy should be in the scratchiest part of the planet. The only folks visible in the photo are Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Eric Holder. What a crew. Could this possibly be the highest counsel of the world’s only hyper-power, or is it a Saturday Night Live out-take? Good grief. At least Jimmy Carter had Amy to give him advice. Any war this lot had to run would resemble the one run by Harpo, Chico, and Groucho in Duck Soup

When he ran for president in 2008, Obama told us he could and would charm the birds from the trees. Specifically he promised he would pour so much love, soul, and hambone on the Arab and Islamic worlds, including its radical elements, that they would soon come to love us. How has that worked out? Right now Obama and his merry men are conducting a moving target of a Mideast policy at the level of seriousness of Tom Sawyer’s gang robbing the A-rabs.

Assad is an evil SOB, and what he’s doing is unconscionable. It’s not my call. But smart money says there’s a place in Hell for him when he leaves this world (which can’t be too soon). But it’s in no way clear that anything the American military could do would make that part of the world any better for Syrians or for Americans. Though our cocking up there would benefit the Iranians.

If Assad loses power in Syria there is no way to know that his replacement(s) would be any better. In that part of the world you can’t tell the players even with a scorecard. Most are either Islamists or are prepared to give Islamists what they want.

At this moment and in this place, the best policy is the one politicians of all stripes can’t ever seem to embrace or advocate, even when it is clearly the best one, that is, do nothing until there is something with a reasonable chance of improving matters.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.