"It has been one of the more stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I’ve ever witnessed"

He willingly jumped into a bear trap of his own creation. In the process, he has damaged his presidency and weakened the nation’s standing in the world. It has been one of the more stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence that I’ve ever witnessed. The failure cuts straight to the heart of a perpetual criticism of the Obama White House: that the President thinks he can do foreign policy all by his lonesome. This has been the most closely held American foreign-policy-making process since Nixon and Kissinger, only there’s no Kissinger. There is no éminence grise—think of someone like Brent Scowcroft—who can say to Obama with real power and credibility, Mr. President, you’re doing the wrong thing here. Let’s consider the consequences if you call the use of chemical weapons a “red line.” Or, Mr. President, how can you talk about this being “the world’s red line” if the world isn’t willing to take action? Perhaps those questions, and many others, fell through the cracks as his first-term national-security staff departed and a new team came in. But Obama has shown a desire to have national-security advisers who were “honest brokers”—people who relayed information to him—rather than global strategists. In this case, his new staff apparently raised the important questions about going to Congress for a vote: Do you really want to do this for a limited strike? What if they say no? But the President ignored them, which probably means that the staff isn’t strong enough…

There are those who say Obama has destroyed his presidency. It may be true, but I doubt it. All sorts of things could happen to turn the tide back in his favor. The snap polls after the Syria speech indicate that he still has the ability to sell an argument, however briefly. He has been lucky in his opponents: the Republicans will doubtless continue to take positions that most Americans find foolish or extreme. Obamacare may prove a success. He may make crisp decisions in the next overseas crisis; one would hope he’s learned something from this one. But he has done himself, and the nation, great and unnecessary harm. The road back to credibility and respect will be extremely difficult.