Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a foreign policy fiasco…
It is to President Obama’s great discredit that he has staked this credibility on a vote whose outcome he failed to game out in advance. But if he loses that vote, the national interest as well as his political interests will take a tangible hit: for the next three years, American foreign policy will be in the hands of a president whose promises will ring consistently hollow, and whose ability to make good on his strategic commitments will be very much in doubt.
This is not an argument that justifies voting for a wicked or a reckless war, and members of Congress who see the Syria intervention in that light must necessarily oppose it.
But if they do, they should be prepared for the consequences: a damaged president, a potentially crippled foreign policy and a long, hard, dangerous road to January 2017.
Each morning for the last week, at 7:45, more than a dozen White House aides have mustered in the corner office of President Obama’s chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, to get their marching orders for what has become the most intense, uphill lobbying campaign of the Obama presidency…
To improve its odds, the White House is enlisting virtually every senior official from the president on down. In addition to members of Congress, it is reaching out to Jewish groups, Arab-Americans, left-leaning think tanks and even officials from the George W. Bush administration, some of whom are acting as surrogates…
The next phase of the campaign will be more individualized, and more from Mr. Obama himself. Democrats who are balking are being asked at least to vote against Republican procedural moves meant to delay or derail an up-or-down vote. After all the arguments are exhausted, aides said, it will come down to a personal pitch: the president needs you to save him from a debilitating public defeat…
The advocates will carry a simple message, according to a person involved in the effort: Syria is a proxy for Iran, and the failure to enforce Mr. Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad will be interpreted in Tehran as a sign that he will not enforce a red line against the production of nuclear weapons by the Iranian government.
The decision to use military force is one of the gravest responsibilities Members of Congress face, and it is one that I take very seriously. I have heard presentations and testimonies from the Administration on their case for military action, have read and studied the text of the authorization for the use of military force that will come before the Senate next week, and have listened to the concerns of thousands of Arkansans as I have traveled the state.
I have said, before any military action in Syria is taken, the Administration must prove a compelling national security interest, clearly define a mission that has a definitive end-state, and then build a true coalition of allies that would actively participate in any action we take. Based on the information presented to me and the evidence I have gathered, I do not believe these criteria have been met, and I cannot support military action against Syria at this time.
Top Bush administration officials have mobilized to sway a skeptical Republican party to authorize military intervention in Syria. As National Review Online reported, former national security adviser Stephen Hadley and former undersecretary of defense for policy Eric Edelman this week led a briefing on Capitol Hill for Republican legislative directors and chiefs of staff…
Hadley and Edelman urged House members to view the Syria issue in a broad context, in particular through the prism of Iran and America’s goal of extracting a negotiated settlement from President Rouhani and the mullahs. “In the Middle East, all issues are linked to each other,” they told the group. They encouraged a consideration of the Syria problem in light of the prospect of Iran armed with a nuclear weapon and, even absent that, as a nation seeking hegemony in the Gulf.
Their argument: If you hope to have a negotiated settlement with Iran, they only way you are going to get there is if the Iranians actually believe the use of force lies behind America’s efforts to negotiate. Hamstringing the president’s effort to use force against Syria now will “absolutely cripple and destroy” the chance to reach a diplomatic settlement with Iran.
The majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans serving in Congress are lining up against President Obama’s plan for military action in Syria.
Of the 16 veterans of those two conflicts serving in Congress, only GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) have publicly supported the White House’s plan…
Their ranks include Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both legs during combat operations in Iraq in 2004. She is adamantly opposed to a U.S. strike on Syria.
When Washington decides to use military force “it’s military families like mine that are the first to bleed,” she said in a statement this week.
Now the president who saw no benefit in wooing Democrats on the Hill is desperate for their love. Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco peacenik, will have to win Barry the right to bomb.
Those around him say that, after the British poodle slipped its leash, Obama faced a gut check on his decision to have a strike. He had to dig deep and decide “This is who I am,” and be true to himself. To be Barry, editor of the Harvard Law Review.
In some ways, his reaction reflects his tendency toward mixing high principles with low motives. He believes it is proper to get Congressional approval and let the people chime in. But he also wanted to make life difficult for Congressional Republicans who like to “snipe,” using his word, from the sidelines with no accountability. He wanted to call their blustery bluff.
But who is going to get bluffed?
Obama had to know that once he threw this into the Congress, it was likely done for.
“Syria didn’t sneak up on us three weeks ago,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a White House antagonist who opposes authorizing force against Syria. “This has been a growing problem for nearly two years. President Obama and Secretary [Hillary] Clinton totally failed from day one to deal with the problem, articulate a strategy and communicate with Congress.”
When Obama changed his mind on whether to seek congressional approval to attack Syria, he did so in a Saturday afternoon Rose Garden address on a holiday weekend, the opening weekend of the college football season. Instead of having laid the groundwork and built quiet support to convince Congress and the public to back a use-of-force authorization and later announcing the president’s intent to do so, the White House worked in reverse.
Then Obama left the country for a trip to Sweden and the G-20 summit in Russia, stops that highlighted the administration’s inability to marshal much international opinion behind striking the regime, beyond a coalition even smaller than the one that supported Bush’s Iraq war.
[M]ost of what happens in foreign policy has nothing to do with threats—thank goodness. But that doesn’t mean that credibility isn’t important. Here’s one: in any negotiation with between the Palestinians and the Israelis, part of what the US will need to do is put some financial sweeteners on the table for the Palestinians—aid, compensation for refugees, whatever. The problem will be that these are empty promises unless Congress backs them up. Palestinians aren’t stupid; they know that foreign aid and especially aid for Palestinians isn’t exactly the most popular cause in the US. They will look at a president who’s just been repudiated in the most humiliating and direct way and ask themselves whether he can persuade Congress to pay up. They are likely to conclude that he can’t, and therefore will see the negotiations as a charade.
That’s just one example. Our Asian allies are being asked to bet the farm on whether the “pivot to Asia” will be real and whether it will last. Can President Obama push military appropriations through Congress? Can they assume that the next administration will follow through on commitments he makes?…
The vote on Syria will be a vote of confidence in President Obama’s leadership, and it will be seen around the world as a crucial test of his standing and power as President of the United States. There are good reasons to vote against what appears to be a classic example of inept military action in Syria, but to think that this vote won’t have serious consequences for President Obama’s ability to conduct the nation’s business is to stick your head in the sand.
As has been touched upon here before, the desire to avoid America in another foreign conflict is understandable. But if that is the policy, the president of the United States should not state that presidents of countries in upheaval (e.g., Bashar Assad) “must go,” should not draw “red lines” and ignore them, should not devise plans to punish rogue leaders but not actually damage their war-making ability, should not promise action and send forces to carry out the action, and then have, in current parlance, a public “conversation” with himself about whether to do anything, and should not thereby abdicate his great office in all respects except the salary and perquisites…
President Truman famously said, “The buck stops here,” and he was right. The American public despises Congress, with good reason. Most of the members are venal, politically cowardly, and incompetent; the idea of those 535 log-rolling gas-bags sharing the command of the U.S. armed forces does not bear thinking about. And if the United States is effectively blasé about countries using chemical weapons on their people, as it apparently is about the formerly “unacceptable” development of nuclear weapons by Iran, this depressing news should be imparted to the world explicitly by the administration and not left to be surmised from the waffling of the Congress.
What is more worrisome than the fact that the United States has an inadequate president, is that the public still accords the incumbent a significant degree of support. If the American people, who have responded to intelligent leadership so often within living memory, has become so morally obtuse that it buys into this flimflam, the problem is more profound than I imagined.
Representative Jim McGovern recommended that the Obama administration drop his request for congressional approval for military action in Syria because he doesn’t have the votes.
“If I were the president, I would withdraw my request for the authorization at this particular point,” said the Massachusetts Democrat, who opposes the military strike, on State of the Union this morning. “I don’t believe the support is there in Congress.”
Via the Corner.