I’m trying to imagine anything you could say to Trump that’s more likely to convince him to hit Assad again than having Obama advisors tell him he’s way more awesome on this issue than their guy was. Obama the weakling versus Trump the strongman, Obama the ditherer versus Trump the man of action — this is right in his psychological wheelhouse.
Actually, maybe one thing: “Jared thinks it’s a good idea.”
“Great move.” “Brilliant.” “Finally!” were some of the comments I heard from veteran foreign policy hands in both parties Friday morning…
“Our administration never would have gotten this done in 48 hours,” one former senior official of the Obama administration told me. “It’s a complete indictment of Obama.”
“I feel like finally we have done the right thing,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as Obama’s first-term chief of policy planning at the State Department and long publicly urged a more forceful response to Assad’s horrific attacks on civilians during the six years of war that have wracked Syria, told me. “The years of hypocrisy just hurt us all. It undermined the U.S., it undermined the world order.”
It’s a two-fer. Not only do the Obama alums get to vent their support for humanitarian intervention and resulting frustrations with O, they can use the occasion to try to steer Trump to a more confrontational posture towards Russia over Syria. The more he butts heads with Putin, the more Strange New Respect will be in the offing.
But maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe … there’s a troubled conscience at work? Not just for letting Assad act with impunity for years, but for the administration lying outright to Americans to make them believe he was more compliant on ridding himself of chemical weapons than he really was:
Putting the best face on it, former Obama advisers said it was better to have removed 1,300 tons of chemical weapons from Syria even if Mr. Assad cheated and kept some, or later developed more. “Imagine what Syria would look like without that deal,” said Antony J. Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state. “It would be awash in chemical weapons, which would fall into the hands of ISIS, Al Nusra or other groups.”
Still, the administration knew all along that it had probably not gotten all of the chemical weapons, and tried to get Russia to help press Syria, without success. “We always knew we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration,” Mr. Blinken said.
“We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out,” John Kerry proudly proclaimed on “Meet the Press” in 2014. The Syrian “disarmament” was to some extent a sham, designed overtly to protect Assad from American reprisals, and many Obama advisors surely knew it. Imagine the guilt they felt last week when news of the slaughter in Idlib broke. And ask yourself: If they were willing to look the other way at Assad cheating at chemical WMD in the name of avoiding conflict, what were they willing to do vis-a-vis Iran and its nuclear weapon?
In lieu of an exit question, read this inadvertently funny column by Josh Rogin from over the weekend about how much bigger Obama’s planned strikes on Assad in 2013 — the ones he never actually ordered, see — were than the one Trump ordered last week. Obama wanted to hit six Syrian installations, not one, although even Rogin’s Obama-era source admits Trump has a problem that O didn’t have in needing to avoid Russian casualties stationed at those bases, a nonfactor four years ago. Leaking old, never-used battle plans may be another sign of Democratic guilty consciences at work. “We could have put a real hurt on Assad!” they cry. “It was the guy at the top who wimped out.” It’ll be interesting to see if those old plans get recycled by Trump the next time Assad uses nerve gas on someone. Because there almost certainly will be a next time.