President Barack Obama does not like being criticized, particularly when it is criticism that he deserves.
Obama has had to spend an inordinate amount of time recently explaining to the press why his approach to the Syrian civil war in 2012 and 2013 was a sound strategy. The rise of ISIS in Syria, which is now fighting on fronts in at least three Middle Eastern nations, has prompted many prominent voices to second guess that policy.
And who could blame them? The president spent the first bloody year of the Syrian civil war simply hoping that geopolitical crisis would go away. He was forced to address that conflict its second year when it became characterized by the battlefield use of chemical weapons on rebel and civilian targets. Obama threatened the use of force against Syrian government forces for their egregious violation of international norms in August of 2012 and only began to make good on his threat the following year when it became clear that the combatants were flagrantly ignoring America’s warnings. Finally, loathe to back his threats of force with action, Obama took the easy way out when Vladimir Putin offered him a face-saving off ramp which would address the chemical weapons threat but keep Russia’s client in power. Obama declared victory while the crisis in Syria metastasized.
This policy of dithering and indecision has led to a crisis which is of an order of magnitude greater than the disaster in Syria which the world opted to ignore from 2011 to 2013. Not being critical of this dismal policy failure would be an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. But Obama’s role in the rise of the Islamic State is not so much being lamented by Republicans – they have never stopped being critical of Obama’s Syria policy. No, the ISIS crisis has induced the dam holding back Democratic criticisms of the president’s Syria policy to burst.
In just the last several days, a variety of former members of Obama’s administration tasked with crafting a Syria policy have undercut the president, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” she said of Obama’s reactive foreign policy doctrine.
Many congressional Democrats with foreign policy chops and a hint of integrity have said the same. “I just don’t get a sense that we have a strategy,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) lamented as early as October of last year.
“I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if we had committed to empowering the moderate Syrian opposition last year,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s leading Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) wistfully pondered in an interview with The New York Times. “Would ISIS have grown as it did?”
The deluge of criticism from Democrats is forcing members of the press to debrief Obama on his approach to the Syrian civil war.
Well, Obama has just had it with this Monday morning quarterbacking from his supposed allies. According to a report in The Daily Beast via Josh Rogin, Obama thinks all this criticism of his approach to that once localized conflict which conflagrated into the region-wide sectarian war in which Obama has now committed the U.S. to intervene is, frankly, “horses**t.”
Just before the congressional recess, President Obama invited over a dozen Senate and House leaders from both parties to the White House to talk about foreign policy. According to two lawmakers inside the meeting, Obama became visibly agitated when confronted by bipartisan criticism of the White House’s policy of slow-rolling moderate Syrian rebels’ repeated requests for arms to fight the Assad regime and ISIS.
According to one of the lawmakers, Sen. Bob Corker asked the president a long question that included sharp criticisms of President Obama’s handling of a number of foreign policy issues—including Syria, ISIS, Russia, and Ukraine. Obama answered Corker at length. Then, the president defended his administration’s actions on Syria, saying that the notion that many have put forth regarding arming the rebels earlier would have led to better outcomes in Syria was “horseshit.”
White House officials confirmed the charged exchange between Obama and Corker but declined to confirm that Obama used the expletive. The interaction between Obama and Corker was a tense moment in the otherwise uneventful meeting.
In August alone, Obama has been forced to defend his snakebit approach to the Syria conflict to reporters with The New York Times and The Atlantic, neither of which caters to a particularly conservative audience. It is not the criticisms which are beginning to irritate the president, but the source of those criticisms. Obama’s allies are losing confidence in the president’s ability and instincts, and it’s getting to him.