Obama: "I'm less concerned about style points" on Syria

The debacle of the past three weeks on foreign policy in Syria doesn’t concern the man fumbling the ball at the top, as Barack Obama told George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview for ABC’s This Week.  All he cares about is getting to the best position for American and global policy, not how it looked getting there.  Worrying about “style points” is what got us into the Iraq War, Obama asserts:


President Obama says a tumultuous month as commander in chief, when his policy toward Syria took a number of unexpected turns, may not have looked “smooth and disciplined and linear,” but it’s working.

“I’m less concerned about style points. I’m much more concerned with getting the policy right,” Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview on “This Week.”

Obama said his surprise announcement on Aug. 31 that he would seek congressional authorization for U.S. military strikes against Syria, then the abrupt cancellation of a vote this week and pursuit of a diplomatic plan led by the Russians, has put the country “definitely in a better position.”

“My entire goal throughout this exercise is to make sure what happened on Aug. 21 does not happen again,” the president told Stephanopoulos of the large-scale chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that he said killed more than 1,400 civilians.

“We have the possibility of making sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Do we?  I referenced Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in an earlier post, but further into his Bloomberg essay (which argues that Assad is the big winner in the deal), Goldberg gives two reasons why the US and the world are now worse off:

Eventually, though, this limited Western victory might feel like a moral and strategic defeat, for two reasons.

1. Our allies across the Middle East, having seen the U.S. promise to help remove Assad and then not follow through, will further doubt American steadfastness and friendship and will reorient their policies accordingly, with some adverse consequences for the U.S.

2. This plan probably won’t work. Assad is a lying, murdering terrorist, and lying, murdering terrorists aren’t, generally speaking, reliable partners, except for other lying, murdering terrorists. In any case, disarmament experts say that this process, properly carried out, would take years and years to accomplish, but of course they really don’t know how long this might take because no one has ever tried to locate and secure hundreds of tons of chemical weapons on an active battlefield, particularly one in which Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are vying for supremacy.

As for style points leading us into the Iraq War and having it “blow up in our faces,” what exactly does that mean?  If it means that our earlier invasion and 12-year enforcement of UN Security Council disarmament resolutions led us to a credibility point where we had to take action, well, how exactly is that different than what John Kerry claims is the deal with Russia on Syria?  And didn’t the White House and its defenders argue for two weeks that Congress needed to authorize military action primarily to restore the credibility of Obama himself?  How is that not a concern over “style points”?

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