I’m too young to remember the Cuban missile crisis. I do know, though, that for several days Americans thought that the stare-down between Kennedy and Khrushchev would end in nuclear war. Those were very scary times. In the end, Khrushchev blinked. Subsequent revelations about the Kennedy White House have revealed that Kennedy had engaged in an even more dangerous gamble than people realized, whether from arrogance, incompetence, or carelessness. Regardless of motives, at least Kennedy never broke his public persona: He was a single-minded, focused hawk protecting America’s interests from Soviet weapons incursions in our neck of the hemisphere. His ghostwritten book made it clear that when Kennedy said “this means war,” he knew what war meant.
One wonders if Barack Obama had Kennedy in mind, first when he threw out his fatuous “red line” statement last year and then again last week when he announced his unilateral intent to engage in a punitive attack against Syria. Of course, this being Obama, it wasn’t actually war, although it would take out military objects, because he announced that at some future time he would announce the date, time, and locations in advance. Since one never does that in a serious war, Obama’s little proposal clearly wasn’t serious.
It was bad enough having our president bluster about a profoundly un-serious “strike,” one so un-serious that it was quickly impossible to distinguish pathetic fact from clever satire. What made it even worse was when our president suddenly realized you might have a problem if the only groups that approve of you are France and Al Qaeda. (Oh, wait! I must have blinked. France doesn’t approve anymore either.)
Obama then added to the un-serious factor by making a volte face and announcing that Congress, which he had previously assured everyone was unnecessary in any war calculations, was necessary, and that, in the face of this urgent situation, he would sit back and wait more than a week until Congress convened, so that he could talk the whole thing over with Congress at his leisure. Some see this as a sign that Obama is recognizing that, on such an important decision, Congress should have a say. Those of us who watch the president with a more jaundiced eye believe he’s hoping that Congress will provide him with cover for his own craven retreat from a poorly-thought-out stand.
Wiser minds than mine have diagnosed Obama with Hamlet syndrome. Neo-Neocon even coined a neologism — Obamlet — and offering readers a clever reworking of Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy. If you substitute the “fatuous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy” for the phrase “famous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy,” you’ve got Obama in a nutshell.
John Podhoretz also weighed in on Obama’s relationship to the famously indecisive Danish prince. After giving a quick rundown of Obama’s inability to stick with one plan regarding Syria for anything longer than a day or two, Podhoretz notes that Obama is like Hamlet, except that he’s worse than Hamlet, who had the excuse of youth and inexperience:
In his voice-over prologue to his 1948 film version of “Hamlet,” Laurence Olivier says, “This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.”
It’s by no means shameful to be likened to Hamlet; after all, Hamlet spoke the greatest poetry ever written in the English language, and his existential torments speak to the deepest truths of human nature. But Hamlet is 20 years old, a college student in shock from his father’s sudden death and his mother’s marriage to his uncle.
He is not a 52-year-old president of the United States, twice elected to that office to lead the nation. And Hamlet didn’t choose to be the vessel of his father’s vengeance; that task was thrust upon him.
Podhortez makes another important point, which is that, unlike Hamlet, who was wracked by moral confusion, Obama’s indecision derives from a different cause. I’d like to build on that.
To begin with, unlike Hamlet, Obama is not suffering from a moral crisis. He is suffering from an ideological crisis. In that regard, I cannot recommend highly enough Elliott Abrams’ article at Commentary Magazine, “The Citizen of the World Presidency.“
Abrams makes clear that Obama is tugged between two ideologies. On the one hand, he is committed to achieving world peace and complete humanitarian aid for those who need it. On the other hand, he thinks America is the last country that ought to be making those things possible. Obama has one over-arching idea that reconciles these two ideologies (i.e., that the world needs what America has the ability to give, but America should never be allowed to give those things): To Obama, America is so toxic that any help she gives is worse than no help. Obama, moreover, is afraid not only of America, but of America’s allies, who might one day (God forbid!) advance America’s inherently dangerous and evil values. Abrams doesn’t phrase it so crudely, of course, but that’s my takeaway from the article.
What we’ve been witnessing over the past week and a half is Obama trying to reconcile his purely academic goal of helping the hapless Syrian civilians, a goal that might be furthered using America’s military might, with his overriding fear that America, especially when she acts through her military, poisons everything she touch, so much so that Assad and his merry band, on the one hand, and al Qaeda, and its equally merry band, on the other hand, are the better alternative to anything America can offer.
Under this analysis, Obama is not backing away from intervention in Syria because of very serious, bipartisan questions about (a) whether a “muscular” yet delicate strike can accomplish anything, and (b) whether a strike leaves America in a position that is better than or at least equal to that which she finds herself in now, or if it makes the world an infinitely more dangerous place.
As to that second point, I cannot remember where I read it this morning, but someone very smart made a telling point about the difference between Libya, in which Obama was able to intervene without killing more than an ambassador and some other guys (Obama’s nonchalance, not mine), and the possible risks if he authorizes a Syrian strike. Libya was a one-man show, with an already de-clawed Qaddafi in charge. Syria is a well-organized, heavily-armed Chinese, Russian, and Iranian satellite that very likely has a large stockpile of the WMDs that vanished during the year that Bush took to create his coalition of the willing. A few Popeye-esque twitches of America’s “muscle” will not put any fear whatsoever into Syria.
And that gets me to my second point about Obama being much worse than Hamlet. Hamlet was serious. His anguish was real and his moral dilemma (although I find it irritating and dull) was real too. Obama is un-serious. Unlike Kennedy, who actually appeared to believe in his stance and who successfully convinced the Soviets of his willingness to act, Obama convinces nobody. Rather than engaging in war rhetoric with Obama, Syria is simply mocking him. Even from his grave, Clausewitz is mocking him.
In this, the culmination of Obama’s presence on the world’s stage (until the next disaster provides the next culmination), Obama has gone from the world’s savior to the guy with the “kick me sign” on his back. Heck, even liberals are mocking him. They haven’t yet decided he’s the full George Bush, but they’re beginning to wonder.
If you need any further corroboration about Obama’s fundamental un-seriousness, look at his cabinet. Someone else added the Bush poster in the back, but it was Obama who assembled around him such clowns as Kerry (who has never been right about any American foreign policy); Brennan (reputed to be a Muslim, and known to be a Muslim-sympathizer); Holder (criminally incompetent, by which I mean both criminal and incompetent); Rice (the stooge who carried the bag for the administration’s Benghazi lies); and Hagel (a buffoon, just a buffoon).
Speaking of Hagel, let me assure you that I had nothing to do with the white jacket and hot pink shirt he chose to wear at a serious cabinet meeting that might determine the fate of the world for many years to come:
The great irony here is that, even as we castigate Obama for the serious fall-out from his manifest and un-serious indecision, he’s just as bad when’s he decisive. Rather than start a new post about the things that Obama pursues with single-minded, and amazingly damaging, focus (ObamaCare, illegal immigration), etc., I’ll leave you with a funny look at how dangerous it can be to make up ones mind about the wrong things: