Andrew Sullivan’s marvelously misguided theory about how Obama played Putin when it came to Syria

If you’re a true believer, it’s very hard to admit that your idol has feet of clay. For some, it may be impossible. Andrew Sullivan currently falls into the latter category. He has written an almost pathetic post assuring his followers that Obama cleverly baited a trap for Putin and Putin, that preening fool, fell into it.

According to Sullivan, everything we think we know about Obama’s apparently feckless Syria policy is wrong. Sullivan is willing to concede that Obama was careless when, a year ago, he mentioned a “red line” about Syria. Once Obama had done that, however, Sullivan assures us that Obama instantly knew that he had the perfect bait with which to hook his fish.

In Sullivan’s world, Obama wasn’t flailing when he said that he intended, on his own executive initiative, to bomb Syria. He wasn’t being a rank amateur when he announced the intended date, time, and location of his “muscular,” yet delicate, attack.

Obama wasn’t backtracking when he abruptly announced that, despite the urgent need to bomb Syria, he would wait until Congress convened, deliberated, and voted on an attack. Obama also wasn’t prevaricating (some might say “lying”) when he explained that he hadn’t drawn a red line; the world had drawn a red line, and he was simply helping the world enforce it.

Likewise, Obama wasn’t guilty of rank hiring malpractice when he put before the world a Secretary of State who announced that any US attack against Syria would be so infinitesimally small that a toddler could withstand its impact. That same potential malpractice was inapplicable when that same Secretary of State remarked, to the administration’s explicitly expressed surprise, that Bashar al Assad could make everything good by turning over his weapons which, said Secretary of State hastened to add, could never actually be done.

And of course, no one in the administration was made to look like a fool when Russian President Vladimir Putin instantly announced that he had brokered an agreement with Assad by which Assad agreed that he’d be pleased to turn over all his nasty weapons, at a date, time, and location of his and Putin’s determining. In the same vein, Obama didn’t look like a fool when he went before the American people on Tuesday night and said that war was the only answer, except that he’d be happy to wait on Putin’s proposed peace plan.

Finally, says Sullivan, there was no humiliating slap in Obama’s face when Putin hired a PR firm that wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which Putin threw all of Obama’s words back into his face, including Obama’s 2009 statement that there was nothing exceptional about America.

Instead, according to Sullivan, everything went according to Obama’s carefully laid scheme. America hasn’t bowed out of being the top power broker in the Middle East, and Putin hasn’t leveraged his Third World nuclear power into being the Big Dog in a region that responds well to loud barks. Obama won! We’re just too stupid to recognize victory when it’s clothed in such subtle garb.

Here’s what Sullivan says really happened: Obama engaged in a strategic game that would have made Machiavelli proud. He’d cleverly figured out that Syria is unsalvageable, so he’s now foisted responsibility for it onto Putin. You heard me. That’s what Sullivan says:

If the end-result is that Putin effectively gains responsibility and control over the civil war in Syria, then we should be willing to praise him to the skies. Praise him, just as the far right praises him, for his mastery of power politics – compared with that ninny weakling Obama. Encourage him to think this is a personal and national triumph even more than he does today. Don’t just allow him to seize the limelight – keep that light focused directly on him. If that also requires dumping all over the American president, calling him weak and useless and incapable of matching the chess master from Russia, so be it. Obama can take it. He’s gotten used to being a pinata.

All this apparent national humiliation is worth it. The price Russia will pay for this triumph is ownership of the problem. At some point, it may dawn on him that he hasn’t played Obama. Obama has played him.

It’s now all so clear. The Great and Powerful Obama willingly put his credibility and America’s stature on the line in order to lure Putin closer and closer to the Middle Eastern tar baby. Obama understood that it was never in America’s interest to go in. Being wise beyond all mortal recognition, however, he also understood that America, because she’s got the best military in the world, was always expected to go in. The only way Obama could avoid that horrible fate (a fate, incidentally, that the vast majority of American people think is a lousy idea), was to appear like a bumbling, incompetent idiot, thereby inveigling Putin to step in. Well played, Obama! Well played!

Sullivan’s theory about Obama’s wonderfulness is really quite perfect, until one realizes that he’s wrong about a central fact: Putin’s and America’s goals are different. Unlike Obama, with his anti-American “responsibility 2 protect” doctrine (America can only step into another nation’s war if it’s not in America’s interest to do so), and unlike the American people, who have soft hearts, and hate to see innocents massacred, Putin doesn’t care at all if Syrians engage in a slaughter that leads every man, woman, and child to the grave.

What Putin cares about is (a) humiliating Obama, which he did magnificently; (b) humiliating America, which I’m sorry to say he also did magnificently; (c) becoming a player in the Middle East for the first time since the Cold War, another magnificent accomplishment; and (d) finally, having access to Syria’s chemical weapons, while keeping Russia’s arms market afloat by selling to Syria and Iran.

Put another way, Obama was no Machiavelli. He was one of those dumb dogs playing poker with a master strategist and tactician. As for Sullivan, he’s got his head so far up . . . well, you know, that he’s blinded by the light shining through Obama’s tonsils every time the President opens his mouth to spout another lie or prevarication.

Vladimir Putin bitch slaps Obama in the pages of the New York Times

Some people are gracious winners. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not one of those people. After humiliating President Obama before the world when he pulled Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire regarding Syria (a move, incidentally, that turned a leader of a third-world nuclear nation into a Middle Eastern power broker), Putin took to the pages of the New York Times to rub Obama’s face in his embarrassing failures.

In stilted, but still effective language, Putin chastised Obama for his bullying and his ignorance, and even managed to throw Obama’s own words back in his face.

First, Putin gave the United Nations’ loving Obama a little history lesson:

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter.


Next came a veiled threat about the imminent collapse of world stability should Obama continue to ignore the United Nations (something, incidentally, that George Bush never did):

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. [Paving the way, Putin implies, for World War II.]

Putin takes Obama’s “humanitarian plea” (e.g., we’ve got to do it to save the children of Syria) and turns it upside down, by reminding him that escalating a war ends up with more deaths rather than less:

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.

(Incidentally, while Putin is correct, sometimes a nation, fighting in its own defense, needs to inflict punishing damage against its enemy in order to save itself. Here, of course, Obama only half-heartedly and belatedly made the argument that America has a dog in the Syrian fight.)

After giving a rundown on the Syrian war, Putin puts himself and Russia on the moral high ground, without bothering to mention that he’s pouring money into Russia’s empty coffers by selling weapons to Assad’s government:

Obama and Putin 3

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.

Having established to his own satisfaction Russia’s subordination to the rule of law, Putin goes in for the kill, castigating Obama’s American policies in the harshest terms. There can be no mistake but that Putin is saying that Obama is simply a repeat of George Bush, the man against whom Obama is still running, five years after the 2008 election:

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

Obama and Putin 4

I think the expression that applies here is “bitch slap.” President Putin just bitch slapped the president of the United States of America.

Putin wraps up his peroration about both international law and order and about Obama’s failure to meet those norms by throwing Obama’s own insulting language about American exceptionalism right back in Obama’s face.

Back in 2009, while speaking at a NATO summit, Barack Obama completely trashed the notion of American exceptionalism:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

In his schizophrenic speech on Tuesday night, which was part war mongering and part pathetic gratitude to Russia, Obama sang a different tune:

America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Obama and Putin 2Putin sneers at Obama’s reference to American exceptionalism, and does so in words that must deliberately echo Obama’s earlier snide and dismissive take on America’s unique devotion to the cause of freedom:

I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.

And that’s a KO in the final round, folks. Putin’s practical and rhetorical victory over Obama is complete. For an pathologically egotistical American president who has long believed that he has only to speak magic words to make things happen, to have Russia’s leader (and, increasingly, its dictator) run rings around him on the ground and in the war of words must come as a horrifying shock.

That the White House doesn’t know how to deal with this reality is reflected in its tepid official response to the opinion piece: “That’s all irrelevant.” Right, because it never matters when the American President demeans himself and the nation before an opponent delighted to glory in his victory.

(This piece originally appeared in slightly different form at Mr. Conservative.)

A few articles that I’d like to recommend about Obama and Syria — and why I’m no hypocrite when it comes to supporting Iraq and not Syria

Peggy Noonan, who can be very good, talks about how Obama got us into this mess and the contortions in which he engage to save face.

Peter Wehner talks about just how bad this mess really is, even with Putin having given Obama an out.

A Politico article about the debacle in Washington and the apathy on American streets.

Jonah Goldberg brings his wry wit to the great communicator’s disastrous communication about Syria.

All I can think of is Hitler playing Neville Chamberlain.  After that humiliating debacle, England managed to make a wonderful showing during WWII.  Since then, however, she’s been a broken country, both morally and economically.  In other words, she never recovered from Chamberlain’s naive inability to stop Hitler when it would still have made a difference.

While I’m waffling on about Syria, I’d like to excuse myself of hypocrisy when it comes to not wanting the war in Syria, while supporting the war in Iraq.

First of all, I wasn’t that interested in politics during the lead-up to the Iraq War.  I didn’t have much of a position going in.  Once we were in, though, I said what I’m saying now:  Just showing up at a war is not enough.  Instead, merely showing up without planning to win is terribly dangerous.  Once in a war, you fight to win.  If you don’t win, you’ve lost.  It’s that binary.  Kerry’s statement that any American action would be “unbelievably small” reveals what a disaster we were headed to.  There is no “unbelievably small.”  There is just win or lose.  Bush may have underestimated Iraqi resistance, but his “shock and awe” approach had the right idea — you fight to win, especially in Arab lands, where the population is always drawn to the strong horse and willing to savage the weak horse.

Second, had I been more interested in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, I guess I would have felt that the proximity to 9/11 made a difference.  From the beginning, Bush argued that Iraq was a direct threat to the United States.  Whether that argument was correct is irrelevant here.  That was the argument made, based upon the best available information about chemical weapons, Hussein’s known animosity to the United States, and his support for terrorism and terrorists.  In the case of Syria, Obama hasn’t even tried to argue that the situation in Syria puts America at risk.  Instead, he’s using the “responsibility to protect” doctrine that’s the brainchild of anti-semite Samantha Powers to say that Syria presents the only time America ever should go to war:  when it’s a purely altruistic act that sees her expending blood and money without any benefit to the United States.

Third, Iraq was a population under a dictator’s heel.  Bush bet — and correctly — that many Iraqi’s would see America as a liberator, not a conqueror.  We were the good guys, fighting on behalf of the Iraqi people against the bad guy and his administration.  In Syria, Obama is trying to drop America into one of the bloodiest civil wars in our lifetimes.  Both sides are equally barbaric, unprincipled, immoral, and steeped in hatred for America.  No good can come of sending American money and, as Obama’s mission creep illustrated, American troops into this bloodbath.

Fourth, I trusted Bush and I thought his advisers were intelligent men.  Obama is a liar on a heroic scale, so I reflexively disbelieve everything that comes out of his mouth.  Add to that the fact that he has assembled a collection of hacks, buffoons, racists, and antisemites to advise him, and that he pretty much refuses to talk to people with military expertise, and you can see that I don’t want to follow him into battle.  Nor do I want America to follow him into battle.

Please feel free to call me on this (politely, of course), or to offer further distinctions between Then and Now.

“That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into” — two good articles analyzing how Obama got us to this point

In case you hadn’t already seen them, I wanted to bring to your attention two excellent articles about Obama’s Syria implosion and the untenable position in which he’s placed America.

The first is from my friend Thomas Lifson, writing at American Thinker:  Why Obama Is Floundering.

The second is from Victor Davis Hanson, who explained that, Obama being who he is, If It Wasn’t Syria, It Would Have Been Something Else.

A very disillusioned military

Yesterday, I asked if the military will follow Obama’s Syria orders.  In both public comments and private emails, the answer to that question has been a unanimous “yes.”  Our military is under civilian control and, if the American people elect an idiot, our military is still under civilian control.  So be it.

But the military doesn’t have to be happy about this reality.  Robert Scales, a retired Major General, has been speaking to a lot of people in the Pentagon and he reports that they are deeply unhappy about the proposals coming out of the Obama administration:

They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.


They are outraged by the fact that what may happen is an act of war and a willingness to risk American lives to make up for a slip of the tongue about “red lines.” These acts would be for retribution and to restore the reputation of a president. Our serving professionals make the point that killing more Syrians won’t deter Iranian resolve to confront us. The Iranians have already gotten the message.


Our military members understand and take seriously their oath to defend the constitutional authority of their civilian masters. They understand that the United States is the only liberal democracy that has never been ruled by its military. But today’s soldiers know war and resent civilian policymakers who want the military to fight a war that neither they nor their loved ones will experience firsthand.

Civilian control of the armed services doesn’t mean that civilians shouldn’t listen to those who have seen war. Our most respected soldier president, Dwight Eisenhower, possessed the gravitas and courage to say no to war eight times during his presidency. He ended the Korean War and refused to aid the French in Indochina; he said no to his former wartime friends Britain and France when they demanded U.S. participation in the capture of the Suez Canal. And he resisted liberal democrats who wanted to aid the newly formed nation of South Vietnam. We all know what happened after his successor ignored Eisenhower’s advice. My generation got to go to war.

The above is just a taste.  You really need to read the whole thing to understand how toxic the administration’s combination if ignorance and ideology really is.

Will American troops obey their commander in chief if he tries to march them into Syria? *UPDATED*

Here’s my take on Syria:  While it’s utterly tragic that 1,400 people got gassed, and while gas is a heinous weapon of warfare, especially when loosed against civilian populations, the true weapon of mass destruction in Syria is the combatants:  Muslims from different tribes and with opposing takes on Islam (Shia v. Sunni) are fighting for control over Syria.  This specific type of war (civil war, differing interpretations of Islam, different tribes) means that there is no such thing as a non-combatant .  Everyone, from newborn to ancient crone, is now, has been, or will be a potentially active enemy.

This is total war, which means that there is no such thing as an “out of bounds” tactic.  Indeed, the more vile, the better.  We’re talking about “shock and awe” on a case-by-case basis, with awards going to the person who spatters the most blood when slowly sawing off an enemy’s head, the person who figures out the most creative way to mutilate an opponent’s genitals while he or she is still alive (with extra points for rape and sodomy); the person who slaughters the most Christians in a single attack, the fighter who chews the most hearts and lungs (preferably taken from living subjects), etc.

Please understand that, short of leveling the country, as we eventually and reluctantly did to chunks of Germany and Japan in the very last days of WWII, or as Sherman did to Georgia, bringing our Civil War to an end, there is nothing we can do to stop what’s happening in Syria.  There are no surgical strikes that will stop the hominid WMDs that have killed more than 100,000 non-combatants and that are enthusiastically set on killing as many more as needed on the other side to wipe out the other side completely.

To understand what’s happening in Syria, just think about the Sudan, a country that had its own Muslim tribal warfare.  There, the pale brown Muslims killed, first, all the Christians and, second, all the dark brown Muslims.  The goal was to decimate every single opponent, whether babe in arms or doddering old man.

Given the nature of Muslim/Tribal civil war, unless we decimate one or both sides instantly upon getting involved in Syria’s black hole, we will be drawn into this carnage and, worse, the carnage will come to us.  American-based Muslims will consider it their Shia or Sunni, Alawite or Al Qaeda duty to fight the war on any and every battleground.  “Allahu Akbar” will be heard in a lot of American towns and cities.  We’re already seeing intimations of this with Iranian threats to kidnap and kill family members related to Obama’s cabinet crew, as well as to kidnap and rape one of the Obama girls.

We all know that America’s first act if it engages in Syria will not be to decimate one side or another in the war.  We also know, given the nature of the beast, that there is no such thing as a surgical strike in a Muslim Civil War.  The only that will happen if we go in is that we will pour flammable material on an already raging fire.  Anything we do, rather than de-escalating the Syrian situation, will escalate it.

In real terms, the immediate result will be that American servicemen and women will become targets everywhere in the world.  Also, mission creep will inevitably tip-toe in on bloody cat’s feet, and American troops will find their boots on Syrian ground.  This is especially true if Russia and Iran rush to Assad’s Alawite, Baathist aid, as we lend our blood and money to al Qaeda — which is, of course, our sworn enemy.  (Only someone profoundly disconnected from the Islamic mind actually believes that, if we help al Qaeda beat Assad’s troops, al Qaeda will made nice with us later.  Right.  Just like they did in Libya. . . . What?  Benghazi?  Well, never mind. . . .)  Syria will make Iraq look like a picnic and Afghanistan look like a sock hop.  Our troops will die and they will die miserably.

That’s my prediction.  If you have a different one, please share it with me.  My prediction is depressing even by my jaundiced standards.

Assuming I am right, though, here’s my question, and I mean it quite seriously:  Will America’s troops obey commands to invade Syria or will they mutiny?

To help get this discussion started, here’s a sample oath — in this case, the one that officers in the U.S. Army take:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

Does this oath obligate our men and women in the military to follow a crazy president into a suicidal war?

UPDATE:  This opinion piece by a retired general seems to answer my question:  they will think their commander in chief is an idiot. That thought, however, will not destroy the fact that the America people elected him, he is the CiC, and they will follow orders.  My only hope is that not too many brave men and women die, sacrificed on the altar of Obama’s narcissistic personality disorder.

People see Syria through their own prisms, and they still don’t like it

Yesterday, I put up an image that tied together the significant differences between Obama’s response to a direct attack on America and Americans in Libya, versus a mass civilian murder in a country that’s already killed more than 100,000 of its, and created millions of refugees.  I think its worth repeating here:

The red lines Obama chose to ignore

Early this morning, I came across another poster that sounds the same theme, this time raising suspicions about the Obama government’s fact-finding regarding Syria, versus its fact-finding regarding Benghazi (h/t Bluebird of Bitterness):
This is the prism through which many conservatives who oppose the war view Obama’s sudden desire to marching America into the black hole of a killer nation’s civil war.

What fascinates me is that so many Leftists who oppose Obama’s proposed invasion view the whole thing through a completely different filter. Exhibit A for today is the non-GMO movement’s opposition to the war:Obama should bomb Monsanto

We are all united in our opposition to having the United States engage in Syria.  It’s just that we are completely divided when it comes to the reasons for our opposition.

And of course, if you’re MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, you have to listen to the dog whistle of racism to make sure that, God Forbid, you don’t end up in the same bed as your former political opponents.  Watching Schultz’s contortions, which see him agreeing Republicans regarding their anti-War stance, while simultaneously ascribing them to an unexpressed racism (that’s the old dog-whistle) is actually amusing.  (Warning:  video plays when you load the page.)

I didn’t like Drudge Report this morning

I opened Drudge Report this morning and saw two disturbing things:

Tehran plans attack on U.S. embassy in Baghdad…


PUTIN: Russia Will Help Syria If USA Attacks…

Orders Pentagon to expand target list…


Actually, I saw a lot of disturbing things on Drudge, but those were the ones that made me most unhappy.

Obama kicked the hornet’s nest.  Obama did so without any evidence that he was kicking the right nest, and without any real plan for what would happen when the hornets came out angry, very, very angry.

Or, to switch metaphors, Obama got a heavily loaded truck going downhill with no brakes.

Nothing good can come of this.  This type of posturing has only two outcomes:  War or retreat, with the party retreating first having lost.  There is no middle ground.  Obama, a narcissist par excellence is a loose cannon.  He’s not a loose cannon the way George Bush was, which coolly calculated but giving his enemies the impression that he might blow.  Instead, Obama is a genuine loose cannon.  He’s an uncontrolled hodge-podge of ego, anger, grudges, panic, neuroses, inexperience, projection, and just about any other psychological failing you can shake a stick at.

Can I throw in another metaphor?  I’ll take that as a “yes.”  This guy just drove us at warp speed into quicksand, all the while assuring us that there’s really a little footbridge for us to walk on.  There isn’t.

A year ago, he let his ego rule when he made a throwaway line about a “red line.”  Then, he huffed and puffed because he had to defend his honor.  Now, he’s huffed and puffed us right into the middle of much badness.

I’m sitting here in the audience, helpless, waiting to hear that this was just a carefully staged performance, with everyone going through their choreographed routine.  Even as I sit here, the set is falling down around our heads and the actors are turning on the audience.  (Yes, another metaphor.)

I am not happy.  I am very, very not happy.

By the way, I feel as if I should add here that this is not happening because Obama is a socialist or even a closet Muslim.  This is happening because Barack Hussein Obama has a severe personality disorder.  The man is mentally ill, but we still put him in the White House and handed up the levers of power.  Just for those who need a little review about narcissistic personality disorder, here’s a great summary from, of all places, a very good junk novel:

A person with NPD was domineering, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ needs . .  . and they used rage as a control tactic. They didn’t respect anyone else’s boundaries, which meant they felt entitled to bully and criticize until their victims were an absolute mess. Having a personality disorder was different from being crazy, as Susan explained, because unlike a crazy person, a narcissist could control when and where he lost his temper. He’d never beat up his boss at work, for example, because that would be against his own interests. Instead he would go home and beat up his wife and kick the dog. And he would never feel guilty about it, because he would justify it and make excuses for himself. No one’s pain but his own meant anything to him.  (Blue-Eyed Devil, Kindle Locations 1785-1791).

America’s profoundly un-serious foreign policy: Send In The Clowns

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:

Obama's scary unserious cabinet

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:

As a Jew, why am I not more exercised about the use of poison gas in Syria?

As you’ve gathered, I do not support President Obama’s promised “show” strike against Syria to protest the Assad regime’s alleged use of toxic nerve gas against a community that presumably supported the al Qaeda rebels. To justify my position, I’ve pointed to the fact that there is no benefit to the U.S. in getting involved in Syria.  That still leaves the question, though, of why I, a Jew, wouldn’t want to see every country of good will make its utmost efforts to protest the use of poison gas against civilians.

It’s not that I think a Syrian civilian’s life is less valuable than a Jewish civilian’s life (or an American’s life, for that matter).  Based on the available news, I assume that those who died were just ordinary people, trying to live in a nation torn apart by an internecine tribal, Muslim battle.  If that assumption is correct, those who died are innocent victims, no less than those who lost their lives in Nazi gas camps and mass graves throughout the Pale.  So why don’t I want to help?

Well, there are several reasons.  My first response relates to my family history.  What’s happening in Syria is not genocide, a la Hitler, who wanted to remove an entire race from the earth.  There was no military objective underlying Hitler’s decision to round up 6 million people and killing them. Indeed, it was militarily stupid, because it diverted resources that were desperately needed for a two-front war.

In this regard, I know my views about “ordinary war” versus genocide are informed by my Mother’s experiences.  While she’ll go to the grave hating the Japanese guards who so brutally controlled the concentration camps in Indonesia where she spent almost four years of her life, she’s never been that hostile to the Japanese people.  “They were fighting a war,” she says.  “In this, they differed from the Germans, who were destroying a people.”

What’s happening in Syria is a civil war.  In the hierarchy of wars, civil wars are always the most bloody and least humane, in much the same way that, in the area of law, the most vicious cases are divorces.  Your opponent is close enough for you to hate wholeheartedly.

In Syria, we are witnessing a fight between two closely-related, rabid dogs.  These war dogs can be put down entirely or they can be ignored.  They cannot be trifled with in an inconsequential way, or they will turn the full fury of their wrath on the trifler, even as they escalate actions against each other.  If America goes in, she must go in to destroy one side or the other.  Doing less than that is futile and tremendously dangerous, especially because these are Arabs….

And that gets me to the main reason I’m opposed to intervening despite gas attack that Assad’s troops launched.  Perhaps to your surprise, I’m not going to argue that “Let the Muslims kill each other there, because it’s good riddance to bad rubbish.”  I certainly don’t mind Syria being so busy internally that she has no time to harass Israel.  However, that pragmatic response is most definitely not the same as delighting in the destruction of her innocent civilian population.

Instead, my sense of futility in getting involved in Syria is that what we’re seeing is simply how Muslim Arabs fight.  They don’t do polite warfare, with rules.  They do balls-to-the-wall warfare, with women and children as primary targets.  Their cultural preference when fighting war is rape, mutilation, torture, mass-murder, civilian massacres, and soaking-their-hands-in-their-victims’ blood.

When we oppose gas warfare, it’s because it is so wildly outside the rules by which Western warfare has so long abided:  we fire things at the enemy, whether guns, or cannon, or missiles.  Our culture accepts projectile warfare, but has been for at least a century extremely hostile to non-projectile warfare, whether it’s gas attacks, civilian slaughters, or concentration camps.

Within the context of the Muslim world, when it comes to warfare, anything goes.  If we stop one type of atrocity, they’ll come up with another one, because they have no parameters.

Also, to the extent all Muslim/Arab wars are both tribal and religious, they have no concept of civilians.  Whether you’re a newborn infant, a teenage girl, a mentally handicapped man, or a doddering old lady, if you belong to “the other” tribe or religion (and everyone does) then you are automatically an enemy and a target.  Today’s baby becomes tomorrow’s adolescent rock throwers.  That young teenage girl might give birth to another member of that tribe.  The mentally handicapped man is proof that the other religion or tribe is corrupt.  As for the doddering old lady, she almost certainly raised someone among your enemy.

I’m not saying anything surprising, here.  It’s why the Palestinians so enthusiastically target Jewish schools.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that we did not go to war against Germany at the end of 1941 because it was harassing and killing German Jews.  We tend to leave countries alone, even when they slaughter their own people.  We went after them because they were trying to take over Europe.  To the extent the Roosevelt administration knew about the genocide, it kept it under wraps.  There was no way Roosevelt was going to take America to war over a bunch of Jews.  It was only after the war that everyone was shocked — shocked! — to learn about the scope of Nazi atrocities.

My daughter rather inadvertently pointed out how ridiculous this “mass slaughter of civilians” yardstick is.  For one of her classes, she is required to read three newspaper stories a day.  I suggested the report about Kim Jong-un’s order that his former lover and her entire band get machine-gunned to death.  I also told her that the regime forced the family’s of those executed to watch their loved ones die, and then shipped all the families, lock, stock, and baby off to the concentration camp system.  “They’ll be lucky if they die there quickly,” I added.  “The camps are that bad.”

When she heard this, my daughter, bless her heart, came back with a question that gets to the heart of Obama’s flirtation with bombing Syria:  “Then why aren’t we planning to attack North Korea, instead of Syria?”

Excellent question, my dear, especially considering North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.  We have shown for decades our willingness to stand aside when tyrannical regimes kill their own people — provided that those murders do not implicate American interests.  Even during the Cold War, our incursions into other countries were to protect non-communists from communists.  Since we couldn’t attack the Soviet Union directly, we engaged in containment by proxy.  In other words, our national interests were at stake, because the Cold War was a direct threat to American interests.

In Syria, however, both sides embrace Islam and hate America.  There are no parties there that need to be protected to further America’s security interests.  We should certainly decry the deaths of the civilians, but the average American on the street seems to understand better than the pettish, petulant Obama that this is one where we should stand aside.  This is their culture and they will defeat it only when they want to, not because of half-hearted, ineffectual, silly efforts on our part.

Obama is sort of beginning to grasp this fact, and he’s trying to save face by approaching Congress.  He assumes that the Senate will support his war cry, because Democrats are slavishly echoing him and there are a few Hawkish Republicans (like McCain) who support him.  He fully expects, however, that the House will vote him down, thereby saying him from the consequences of his own threats and posturing.  It’s quite obvious that he also expects that there will be a pitched battle on the House floor, exposing Republican callousness to a disgusted America.

Obama’s hope that Republicans display each other to their worst advantage in their own form of internecine warfare is misplaced.  Considering that only 9% of the American people believe intervention in Syria is a good thing, if the Republicans display even minimal good sense in opposing a strike, they will get the full support of the American people.

Satire for your reading pleasure

Did you know that the military has it’s own version of the inimitable Onion?  For those unfamiliar with the Onion, it is a brilliant satire site — and frankly, in today’s world, it’s very hard to maintain satire when the reality in which we live is so ridiculous and bizarre.

Anyway, a friend of mine directed me to a site called The Duffle Blog, which is a military satire site. It’s dedicated to churning out such articles as “US Praises Massacre Of Syrian Civilians Without Use Of Chemical Weapons.“  Yes, that’s exactly what happened when, for two years, our President was content to sit by as more than 100,000 Syrians died.  We all know that this whole “let’s bomb ‘em” thing is because Obama has to make good on last year’s off the cuff about crossing a “red line.”  Another incredibly funny one is “Admin Error Sends Bradley Manning to Death Row, Nidal Hasan to Gender Reassignment Surgery.”  Even the title is funny.

I wrote a post for Mr. Conservative about Obama’s proposed intervention in Syria, and ended up distilling in the last paragraph my problem with this whole nerve gas thing.  The lead-in to this paragraph was a quotation from Obama admitting that Americans are weary of war and dubious about any benefits resulting from lending America’s might and, possibly, her blood to yet another Middle East war, especially one that involves combatants that are both enemies of America:

In a narrow way, Obama is correct: The world does hold chemical weapons in abhorrence. We also know, though, that when Muslim nations in the Middle East go to war, they have a history of resorting to the utmost barbarity. In the context of their warfare, it’s very hard to say that a gas attack is any worse than cannibalism, random beheadings, and the use of children to commit their bloody acts. In other words, in the Middle East, the people themselves are the weapons of mass destruction.

Incidentally, if you want a good analysis about just how little Syrian fighters, Syrian affairs, and Syrian outcomes matter to America, primarily because the battle is internecine Muslim warfare, you can find one on my blog . . . in the comments section, from Kevin_B, a young Belgian man.

Keith Koffler offers an absolutely scathing indictment about Congress’s silence regarding Syria

Keith Koffler has been around Washington, D.C., for a very long time, and he has a theory about Congress’s remarkable silence regarding both events in Syria and Obama’s huffery and puffery regarding events in Syria.  Let me just say that his theory is not pretty.  Indeed, it’s disgusting, and embarrassing, and really supports what many feel which is that, when it comes to Congress, we should dump anyone who’s been there more than one term in the Senate and more than two terms in the House.

Mark Steyn on Obama’s new war

Nobody says it better:

I see the Obama “reset” is going so swimmingly that the president is now threatening to go to war against a dictator who gassed his own people. Don’t worry, this isn’t anything like the dictator who gassed his own people that the discredited warmonger Bush spent 2002 and early 2003 staggering ever more punchily around the country inveighing against. The 2003 dictator who gassed his own people was the leader of the Baath Party of Iraq. The 2013 dictator who gassed his own people is the leader of the Baath Party of Syria. Whole other ball of wax. The administration’s ingenious plan is to lose this war in far less time than we usually take. In the unimprovable formulation of an unnamed official speaking to the Los Angeles Times, the White House is carefully calibrating a military action “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”

That would make a great caption for a Vanity Fair photo shoot of Obama gamboling in the surf at Martha’s Vineyard, but as a military strategy it’s not exactly Alexander the Great or the Duke of Wellington.

Read more of Mark Steyn’s inimitable prose here.

When Obama finally leads from the front, no one wants to follow him

Last year, Obama and his acolytes were boasting about his “lead from behind” approach, one that saw him place America (and her interests) behind a UN-led line when it came to the Arab Spring.  At the time, people at home and abroad wished that America, which still had something of a reputation for leadership, would in fact take the lead, and exert some control over the explosive Arab spring.  All Obama did, though, was whisper words of love to the Muslim Brotherhood, and engage in gun-running in the Libyan desert.  Leadership it was not.

Now, though, Obama is leading with his chin.  He’s huffing and puffing about Damascus, bravely warning Assad that, at a date, time, and location to be announced well in advance, Obama will use the might of the American military to blow up some vaguely strategic buildings that, thank heavens!, will be empty.  (Or, if the Syrians are looking for a little strategic martyrdom, that will in fact be packed to the gills with women and children.)

Should we be celebrating the fact that Obama has finally decided to lead?  Most emphatically NO!!!  For it’s becoming clear that no one wants to follow him.  It would be one thing, of course, if the naysayers were all overseas and if Obama had made a credible case that America’s national interest desperately required a strike against Syria, regardless of the feckless Europeans.  But that’s not what has happened.

Obama has failed to articulate any reason whatsoever that would implicate an American interest in bombing Syria.  Since it’s been embroiled in its civil war, Syria has nicely left America alone and, as a byproduct, it hasn’t had time to bomb Israel lately either.  Both sides in the civil war are enemies of America.  (And don’t get me started on the fact that, back in 2011, had Obama sided hard, even if just in speeches, with the original rebels against Assad, he could quite possibly have kept that crew pro-American, rather than created a vacuum that al Qaeda happily filled.)

No matter which side wins or loses, they’ll still hate us, and that’s true even if we help them to victory.  (Exhibit A:  the “rebels” in Libya, who were actually al Qaeda fighters, and who were happy to use us and then to attack us.)  Obama has failed even to make a convincing argument about the nerve gas.  Experts are now waffling about who really did it.  Was it Assad?  Was it al Qaeda that was willing to kill its own supporters in order to force Obama to fulfill his “red line” promise?  We don’t know, but our president is still talking war.

As far as I can see, there is no benefit to our going into Syria.  We have not even a pretense of a dog in this fight.  The president has been sitting on his hands while 120,000 people or so have died, and at least that number have been turned into refugees, and we’re suddenly rushing off to war because 1,500 more died?  I don’t mean to minimize the horrors of toxic gas as a weapon of warfare, but the fact remains that Arabs are not constrained by polite rules of warfare (as Saddam Hussein showed when he gassed thousands of Kurds).  There is no way we can police the Arab world every time its members lapse into profound inhumanity to their fellow man.

What I do see are downsides.  If it’s a nothing of an attack, we’ve proved we’re a nothing of a nation. If it’s a middling attack, it could be enough to spark another maddened Muslim uprising, with Israel as its first target, and every American as its second.  And if it’s a total war attack, then we’ve engaged in total war for no reason, spending down our national capital, and proving us to be brutes of the type every fevered American hater has always claimed us to be — and that will be with America led by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Obama has managed to get himself and, by extension, America into an absolutely untenable position.  No wonder he won’t go to Congress.  If Facebook is anything to go by, Congress will listen to the people and will not support Obama.  I’ve seldom seen such unanimity on my “real me” Facebook:  Everyone, no matter their political views (or absence of political views) is opposed to engaging in Syria.  This is 2003 in reverse:  Just as Congress in 2003 voted almost unanimously to go to war in Iraq, this time around, Congress and the American people (except, of course, for Obama’s love slave, Nancy Pelosi) are resoundingly opposed to a foray into the Middle East.

My favorite post ever of all my own posts is the one I wrote about God’s seeming cruelty in allowing Pharaoh to continuously break his word to Moses, thereby resulting in Pharaoh people getting struck down by terrible plagues.  I wrote that this is not an example of God’s capriciousness or cruelty.  Instead, it is a necessary lesson:

Sheltered in his lavish palace, Pharaoh might worry about a populace starving and frightened, but that was irrelevant as long as that same populace continued to fear and worship him.  The people’s suffering, ultimately, was irrelevant to his goals.  It was only when the price became too high — when Pharaoh’s power base was destroyed because his citizens were destroyed — that Pharaoh was convinced, even temporarily, to alter his evil ways.

Assad is Pharaoh, but Obama is no Moses.  On this one, he has no people who want to “go.”  It is up to the poor beleaguered people laboring under the tyrannies in the Middle East to stand up on their own, for their own, and insist that their many Pharaohs let the people go.

More thoughts on the imminent Syrian strike

A friend and I have been corresponding about Obama’s statement that tomorrow we will strike meaningless buildings in Syria to “punish” Assad for using nerve gas on his own people.  We agreed that we agree.  FWIW, were’s what I wrote to him:

I am unnervingly reminded of the events leading up to WWI. As you may recall, that started with a small regional problem, and mushroomed into a war that cost millions of lives as the various “great” powers got sucked in. Then, it was America that pulled England’s chestnuts out of the fire. Now, it is America that is hurling fuel onto the fire, and there will be no one left to pull anything out.

The Washington Post is running an editorial saying that Obama is aiming for a careful surgical strike, and that it is announcing the strike’s details, right down to the date, well in advance to deflect a hot-headed response. Thus, says the WaPo op-ed, there will be no dead bodies, just a few shattered buildings. The purpose of this carefully calculated incursion is to let Bashar Assad know that Obama is angered by his behavior and is watching him.

As for me, I think this is a carefully calculated mistake. The swirling vortex in Syria is too strong to allow escape for any force that comes too close. It might have worked in 1993 when Clinton fired a few rockets into Iraq, but it will not work in a white hot civil war characterized by (as you said) 100,000 dead bodies, not to mention the atrocities and the refugees.

Obama has also miscalculated terribly by failing to articulate what American interests are in Syria. Is he trying to weaken Assad to give the al Qaeda rebels a fighting chance? If so, what’s in it for us? We’re talking about al Qaeda for Gawd’s sake.

As they showed in Libya, having America help them in one year isn’t going to stop them from attacking and killing Americans in Benghazi the next year. They’re very focused, and their goals are regional control and, Allah willing, world domination. They’ll take Great Satan’s hand if they need it, but it doesn’t quench their fundamental murderous animosity to America and her people.

And if there’s another reason for going in, what is it?

Americans are a sympathetic people, but they’ve learned through bitter experience that internecine conflicts between Arabs/Muslims are invariably blood baths. Whether between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, in the Sudan a few years ago, within Iraq since 2003, in Egypt right now, or in Syria for the last two years, they fight with unspeakable savagery until the survivors are incapable of fighting any more. And then they fight some more.

In past wars, we’ve gone in with the stated purpose of bringing Democracy to an oppressed people. Americans like to fight for freedom. But what are we doing taking sides in a battle between two sadistic oppressors? Obama has failed to explain.

Worse, Obama has failed to explain even to Congress, because he refuses to speak to it, despite the War Powers Act. He’s also failed to speak to the UN (despite his pre-2008 promises to do so), leaving Ban Ki-whats-his-name to beg him to “give peace a chance.”

So yes, I agree with you VERY STRONGLY. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that the President, unilaterally — and I mean entirely unilaterally, without even America behind him — is taking us down a dangerous path that has no benefit for America, only peril. And along the way, there’s a substantial chance that all the parties to the conflict will turn their guns on Israel.

A lot of people are saying that, for all the rhetoric, neither Syria, nor Iran, nor al Qaeda, is ready to take on Israel. That’s logical, of course, but logic doesn’t deter mad men. Think about this: if Hitler had stopped before engaging in a disastrous second front against the Soviet Union, he might have been sitting pretty in Europe for decades. His advisers begged him to leave the Soviet Union alone, but he wouldn’t listen. When it went sour, they begged him to pull out, but he wouldn’t. And no military advisers would ever have urged him to turn over so many military resources — trains, guards, etc. — to make the continent Judenrein. He did these things because he had become a megalomaniac as the war progressed.

And sadly it seems that, in Muslim wars, megalomania is never far behind.

Thoughts on Syria

My long-time internet friend Steve Schippert (USMC, Ret.), who has an intelligence background, has weighed in on Syria.  I feel quite flattered, considering his knowledge and expertise, that he feels as I do:  In Syria, the most brutish forces are battling it out amongst each other in a civil war that will end only with the last man standing (all women and children on both sides of the battle having long since been slaughtered or, if lucky, relocated).

Moreover, despite the fact that we are appalled by the savagery, with each side striving to outdo each other with mass civilian slaughters (although Assad has an edge with his nerve gas) we have absolutely no dog in the fight:  both sides are evil and both are advancing values antithetical to traditional American notions of freedom.  Whether we side with Assad or Al Qaeda, if we go in, we will come out smelling like fecal matter and covered in blood, our own and everyone else’s.

Obama is inexorably pushing us to battle in Iran, but it is impossible to imagine that he has an actual objective, other than to make it so that nobody can say that he lied a year ago with his foolish, unprep’d statement about “red lines.”  Or as Steve says, “our president, befuddled and largely disinterested in foreign policy, makes clumsy remarks about “red lines” that get modified as they are ignored until the whole world laughs. That’s no reason to strike bad guys, which helps the other bad guys. And it’s no foreign policy. So sit still, keep quiet, and let Red on Red play out.”

The only thing I want to add is that this is what happens when the world’s policeman bows out.  Whether looking at a single country (Syria or Egypt) or an entire region, when there is no restraining hand on the leash, tyrants will rise up.

Obama’s willingness to go to war against Syria

Obama, the presidential candidate who promised not to get America into wars, is on the verge of inserting America into the tar baby to end all tar babies:*  Syria’s civil war.  A lot of people are asking why in the world he’s doing this.  John Hinderaker thinks that Obama’s going to lob a few missiles into Syria in order to get some political cover for his ill-advised “red line” statement a year ago.  (I.e., if Syria uses WMDs, Obama’s going to have to think about acting decisively.)

I answered the same question differently.  I think Obama’s going to lob missiles because he can.  When he actually put boots on the ground in Libya, Congress huffed and puffed, but did exactly nothing to stop Obama’s illegal exercise of Congress’s war power.  Obama learned from that.

In every area, Obama is testing and pushing just how far he can go without Congress doing a darn thing to stop him.  Congress acquiesces when he refuses to enforce laws he doesn’t agree with, such as dealing with illegal immigrants?  Check.  Congress does nothing when Obama unilaterally amends legislation, as he’s been doing repeated with ObamaCare, doing everything from exemptions to delays, none of which are allowed under the law?  Check.  Congress does nothing when Obama embarks upon a war with Libya without first getting Congress’s go-ahead?  Check.

Obama fully understands that the phrase “use it or lose it” applies with as much force to institutions as it does to individuals.  Every time Congress fails to act to protect its turf against an approaching executive, Congress loses power and Obama gains it.

I am not comparing Obama to Hitler here, but it is instructive to note that Hitler invariably did a little testing before he launched full-out onslaughts.  The most notable example, of course, were his decisions to inch his way into Austria and the Sudetenland.  Britain, which was the only power he worried about, huffed and puffed, but stood aside.  The message to Hitler was clear:  today Austria and the Sudentenland, tomorrow all of Europe, and if that works, Russia and the rest of the world.

In this regard, it’s also worth noting that Hitler’s genocidal streak didn’t emerge until he invaded the areas within the Soviet orbit of influence.  It was then that his megalomania met Stalin’s successful mass murder in the Ukraine.  It’s not just that, had Hitler been stopped earlier, he never would have made it to the pale and released his madness on “inferior” people.  It was that, because his ambitions had never been checked early on, his sense of his limitless power grew.  He want from viewing England’s weakness as a tacit acceptance of his territorial ambitions, to believing that he had God-like powers to destroy.

Again, I am not comparing Obama to Hitler.  Obama doesn’t want world conquest (yet) and I doubt he’ll ever become genocidal (although, given free rein, he might pull a Mugabe in terms of shifting ownership from whites to everyone else), but I am saying that, if you allow people to get a little power to which they’re not entitled, they’re going to see that as license to take a lot.  Or as Lord Acton so nicely put it, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolute.”


*For the young ‘uns, “tar baby” is not an allusion to Obama’s skin color.  It comes, instead, from Southern folktales about Brer Rabbit trying to fight a doll made of tar and getting further and further entangled with it.

I’m very interested in your views about Syria

Barack Obama chose to sit out the first two years of the civil war in Syria.  When it started, he could have helped out the rebels before al Qaeda co-opted them, but he didn’t.  Now, Syria is in a full-scale civil war with the Assad regime as the proxy for Iran and Hezbollah, and the rebels as the proxy for al Qaeda.  It is a war with no good guys, but with plenty of victims in the form of ordinary civilians (especially children, the elderly, and helpless women) slaughtered wholesale or turned into refugees.

Bret Stephens, writing at the Wall Street Journal says that a very prevalent mindset (and I have to admit that it’s been my view) is that as long as they’re fighting each other, they’re not attacking Israel, America, or Europe.  He thinks this is a dangerous attitude, first, because these regional Shia versus Sunni fights can spread until the entire Arab world is aflame and, second, because these wars radicalize Muslims.

I think Stephens has a point that there is a danger that the entire region goes up in smoke, which could suck in other parts of the world.  I don’t agree with the radicalization, though, because that horse has already left the barn.  In the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war (which was another Sunni versus Shia fight), the Muslim world wasn’t yet so radicalized and the war did change things.  Now, though, with 9/11 and ten years of war in the Middle East, not to mention the Arab Spring, the name of the game is “radicalized Muslims through the world.”

Accepting as true that Obama has already screwed up by letting the situation get this far, is there anything that can or should be done now?  Or are we fated to sit here helpless and watch the whole world get sucked into the Middle Eastern black hole?

Israel’s attack on Syria is a good thing all around

Syria's civil war

What the Syrians have done to themselves and each other.

I’ve had the weekend to ponder the wisdom of Israel’s attack against Syria and I’ve concluded that she definitely made the right decision.  I’ll set out my reasons below, but I’d love it if you’d chime in with challenges, further thoughts, etc.

1.  In a day and age of “weapons of mass destruction,” the intended target can’t wait until the weapons are launched to declare war.  The weapons’ very existence in the hands of an enemy is, in and of itself, a declaration of war.  Once Israel knew with reasonable certainty that Syria had chemical weapons and long-range missiles, Israel had to act.  I therefore believe the strike was both reasonable and necessary.  The Israeli people agree, and are very supportive.

2.  Having destroyed Syria’s “easy to launch” weapons, Israel has little to worry about.  She is moving her defenses up to the Golan Heights, which is a smart thing to do, but the fact is that, denied “push-of-a-button” weapons such chemicals or missiles, Assad doesn’t have anything with which to wage war against Israel.  He would certainly have struck against Israel if it was easy, both out of malice and to try to draw people in Syria to his side in the raging civil war.  Now that easy is out, he doesn’t have the troops or resources to abandon the fight against his own people and begin a war against Israel.  As it is, large parts of Syria’s infrastructure have already been destroyed.  This would be even more stupid than Hitler’s decision to attack Russia.

3.  Israel gave Obama a very big gift.  Obama made a terrible, amateur mistake when, during an ad lib, he essentially promised that, if Assad used chemical weapons, America would go to war against him.  Now that Assad has been shown to have used chemical weapons against his own people, Obama was in a terrible spot.  Israel by smacking around Syria’s chemical and missile arsenal has also pulled Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire.  He won’t be grateful — his kind never is — but it was a gift nevertheless.

And that’s what I think.  What do you think?

Hollywood may inform Obama’s Washington more than we realize — all theater, no substance

Sometimes one reads something and thinks “That’s it!  That explains what’s been going on.”

I do believe that Elliott Abrams is on to something when he discusses the administration’s approach to Syria, and his point is much larger than the already ugly fact that the president may have misspoken American right into a war.  (Which kind of makes Bush’s gaffes, malapropisms, and linguistic mangles seem a whole lot less significant, right?)

Abrams points out that the New York Times report revealing that Obama’s red line was an ad lib, and a dangerous one at that, also reveals that the White House never actually had a plan.  Here’s what the Times reports:

Mr. Obama’s advisers also raised legal issues. “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” another official said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

But they concluded that drawing a firm line might deter Mr. Assad. In addition to secret messages relayed through Russia, Iran and other governments, they decided that the president would publicly address the matter.

After a detour to note how ironic it is that the same President who established an “Atrocities Prevention Board” a few months ago (“‘never again’ is a challenge to nations”) now has people saying “What do we care?”, Abrams gets down to the nitty-gritty of Obama’s approach to foreign policy — it’s all theater:

Second, the issue of bluffing. It is noteworthy in the Times story that the administration officials were dealing with words, with lines, with messages—never it seems with tougher decisions about actions. This is of course a huge mistake, as just about everyone now acknowledges, though how it comes to be made in year five of an administration is more mysterious.

Abrams contrasts this superficiality — figuring out how to sell an attitude, without having an actual attitude — with what went on under Reagan when the Soviet Union wanted to send advanced fighter planes to Nicaragua.  Abrams was the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, so it was up to him to read formally to his Soviet counterpart the administration’s stand:  “there was a unanimous view that we would not permit Russia to put advanced combat jets into Nicaragua and change the power balance that had existed in the region since the Cuban missile crisis. Everyone agreed.”

That’s what played out in the world.  But what Abrams remembers is that this is also what played out behind closed doors:

But what preceded such talking points was the NSC meeting. There, after everyone said yes, let’s deliver that message, James Baker spoke up. As I recall it, Baker said something like this: Look, we are not agreeing here on sending a message. We are agreeing now that if they act, we will act. We’re not going to come back here in a month or three months or six months and say, gee, now what do we do? If you are agreeing on taking this line and sending this message to the Soviets, you are agreeing now, today, that if they put those jets in, we will take them out. That’s what we are agreeing. Today.

Although Abrams says he wasn’t then and isn’t now a Baker fan, he was then and is now a fan of that type of sober, realistic thinking.  Abrams’ conclusion about the administration’s hollow, theatrical approach to the rapidly unfolding disaster in Syria applies with equal force to every single foreign policy situation Obama has faced.  As you read the words below, think not only about Syria, but about Libya, the Arab Spring, the Israeli/Palestinian debacles, etc.:

It seems there was no one at these Obama administration meetings wise or experienced enough to say “Hold on, what do we do when they call the bluff?” My boss back in the Reagan years, Secretary of State Shultz, was, like Baker, an ex-Marine and a serious guy. At these White House meetings on Syria this year and last, was there one serious guy? Seems not, and seems that that problem has not been solved.