Today Secretary of State John Kerry (that still feels strange to type) laid out the case for American intervention in Syria, including the identification of at least 1,429 Syrians killed by chemical weapons, at least 426 of whom were children. “This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons,” Kerry said. “This is what Assad did to his own people.”
But don’t worry, guys. We haven’t made any decisions yet:
President Obama said on Friday that he has not made a final decision on a response to Syria’s chemical weapons use.
Obama said “this kind of offense is a challenge to the world” and that chemical weapons use in Syria threatens U.S. national security interests as well as U.S. allies such as Israel and Jordan.
While Obama hasn’t decided on a response, he said he is looking at limited action, not an open-ended commitment.
I understand the president’s war efforts were set back by last night’s incredible Parliament vote against British Prime Minister David Cameron. But good grief, I oppose getting involved, and even I think this is becoming embarrassing. The president could have withheld judgment until the UN weapons inspectors finished their jobs or just stayed quiet until he was ready to act. Instead he unleashed John Kerry to start beating the war drums. That established urgency forces him to make a decision: We must either attack Syrian weapons sites or not attack Syrian weapons sites. Instead he seems content to sit around and advertise our entire strategy, with each pronouncement asterisked to note that, whatever we do, it won’t be enough to destroy Assad. Obama used to leak news that made him look decisive; now he’s giving us breaking-news updates on his own personal waffling process.
Why behave with such reluctance? Maybe buried deep beneath the bluster about red lines, he understands that the times have changed: the policy of nation-building has been discredited, the country isn’t hungry for war, and Americans—outside of a small posse of gunslingers at air-conditioned think tanks—have learned hard the lessons of Iraq. Polly Toynbee brilliantly observes this sea change in Britain:
Poor David Cameron has been the one left stranded when the music stopped, still singing as everyone else falls silent. From Number 10 came effing and blinding at Ed Miliband, calling him, as reported in the Times, a “f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***”. But it wasn’t Labour, it was Cameron’s whole country who had changed while he wasn’t looking. Cue last-minute key change in Downing Street’s unconditional promise to the US, but he’s still out of tune with a country that doesn’t want to go to war.
The wind is blowing the same way in America. Obama could show leadership, buck popular opinion, and depose Assad. Or he could do the right thing and stay out. Right now, he seems determined to do neither.
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