Operation Cockamamie: The Damascus Follies
Looking over the week's crazy developments, I can see only one coherent strand in Obama's foreign policy. He wants to make sure that John Kerry and Hillary Clinton will never be elected president. After sacrificing Hillary's career on the blood-streaked walls of Benghazi he had Kerry appear before the Congress and take positions utterly at odds with those he's taken all his life, supplied him with information disputed by other members of the administration, and had him make indefensible statements without any evidentiary support at all.
By way of example, Kerry asserted that the chemical weapons case against Syria was "undeniable." At the same time, the administration offered up a contradictory assessment that "U.S. intelligence has concluded 'with some degree of varying confidence' that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons. He told Congress that the military strikes planned against Syria would not be "war," although he conceded that there might be "boots on the ground" called for. He raised eyebrows when he said Arab countries had offered to bankroll an invasion of Syria. How do you ask an American soldier to be the first to die to advance the interests of the Saudis?
When pressed, he backtracked and said, "There will not be boots on the ground" in connection with the Syrian civil war. He asserted that 34 countries supported this endeavor. Representative Salmon asked for the names of those countries, and Kerry was forced to respond, "Uh, I don't have the list with me." We still have not seen the list. We do know that the British Parliament, in a very rare move, refused, and France's response seems to be "Like, call me maybe."
Some have linked the nondisclosure about the slaughter in Libya in September to the administration's incoherence on Syria, indicating that the terrorists in Benghazi are tied to the very Islamist rebels Obama asks us to support in the Syrian civil war. That connection may well be true, but there is no reason to suggest that it is the only reason for this performance, a contradictory, incoherent clown show.
The other reason, of course, is that the entire notion was ill-considered and executed by not very smart people -- including a president who is in over his head and looking for cover to share the responsibility for his off the teleprompter remark that chemical weapons used by Assad would be a "red line" we would not let him cross without consequence. Add to that the late decision to go to Congress, the incoherent presentation, and the poor preparation of those advancing the incomprehensible plan for an attack, and it seems pathetic, really.
As Charles Krauthammer observed:
We have a problem. The president proposes attacking Syria, and his top military officer can't tell you the objective. Does the commander in chief know his own objective? Why, yes. "A shot across the bow," explained Barack Obama.
Now, a shot across the bow is a warning. Its purpose is to say: Cease and desist, or the next shot will sink you. But Obama has already told the world - and Bashar Assad in particular - that there will be no next shot. He has insisted time and again that the operation will be finite and highly limited. Take the shot, kill some fish, go home.
What then is the purpose? Dempsey hasn't a clue, but Secretary of State John Kerry says it will uphold and proclaim a norm and thus deter future use of chemical weapons.
With a few Tomahawk missiles? Hitting sites that, thanks to the administration having leaked the target list, have already been scrubbed of important military assets?
This is risible. If anything, a pinprick from which Assad emerges unscathed would simply enhance his stature and vindicate his conduct. Deterrence depends entirely on perception and the perception in the Middle East is universal: Obama wants no part of Syria.
Assad has to go, says Obama, and then lifts not a finger for two years. Obama lays down a red line, and then ignores it. Shamed finally by a massive poison gas attack, he sends Kerry to make an impassioned case for righteous and urgent retaliation - and the very next day, Obama undermines everything by declaring an indefinite timeout to seek congressional approval.
Dennis Miller equates this approach with sending Assad a "save the date." In fact, the New York Times reports that the president "directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria" because as Congress debates the issue, Assad has been moving his troops and weapons.
Obama himself was as muddled as his secretary of state. According to him, the world, not he, is responsible for the "red line" threat. He first denied that he made the remark despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, and then he blamed Congress for his statement because it had passed the Syria Accountability Act, which was, in fact, utterly inapplicable to the "red line."
First of all, I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated that in a piece of legislation titled the Syria Accountability Act that some of the horrendous thing that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for. And so, when I said, in a press conference, that my calculus about what's happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn't something I just kind of made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There was a reason for it. That's point number one.
His second point was as ridiculous as an earlier one where he warned the world not to "call his bluff":
Point number two, my credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line. And America and Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.
The extent to which the press keeps covering up these preposterous Obamisms seems boundless. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal described the airbrushing:
The fierce watchdogs of the press, confronted with this brazen falsehood, show themselves once again to be Obama's pet hamsters. Instead of giving a "pants on fire" rating, PolitiFact.com's Jon Greenberg claims Obama was "reframing comments rather than denying them." Greenberg can't even say the statement is half true, so he withholds a rating altogether. Peter Baker of the New York Times has his own euphemisms, writing that Obama was "citing longstanding international norms" and "trying to break out of his isolation." The funniest dodges come from Shawna Thomas of NBC News, who on Twitter calls Obama's whopper "a definite change in tone" and an attempt "to unilaterally widen the circle of responsibility."
That last one is priceless. Next time someone accuses you of trying to weasel out of a commitment, say you're just trying to widen the circle of responsibility.
The Washington Free Beacon, meanwhile, reports that Secretary of State Kerry didn't get the memo: In congressional testimony yesterday "referenced . . . the date when 'the president drew the red line publicly.'" That's right, John Kerry is more forthright than the average journalist.
To me, why Obama ever made the threat is a mystery. It appears that both sides have used chemical weapons in Syria. It seems to me that we had reason to attack Syria for arming the jihadis who attacked our troops in Iraq, and we didn't. Instead, then-Speaker of the House Pelosi and then-Senator Kerry ran to Syria to publicly embrace Assad in the obvious effort to undercut then-President Bush and our men and women fighting in Iraq.
Cecil Turner at the Just One Minute blog was also puzzled:
I wonder, if I were an Iranian, what I would think about a sudden international impetus to enforce a chemical weapons ban . . . years after the same players abetted and covered for far worse attacks against Iran? Maybe: quick, get enough of a nuclear capability to get some respect and act as a deterrent? Somehow I doubt that's the message we're looking for.
Of all the reasons for a cosmetic strike, this is surely one of the worst.
The will and the competence of the administration are now major international question marks. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power's naïveté is startling. Apparently she believed that the Iranians and Russians would join with us, the former because they once were victims of gas attacks. Obviously no one in the administration considered this public announcement of stupidity remarkable enough to distance the administration from it.
As the week ends, it appears that Obama is going to lose the House and possibly the Senate. He earlier refused to say whether, having sought congressional approval, he'd continue on his feckless path without it. Now the "international test" Kerry used to put such stock in seems to be grading the gang with an F; both the pope and Madonna have come out against a Syrian strike, and the list of 34 countries Kerry touted seems to be permanently lost.
For those who supported this foolhardiness to "send a message to Iran," Tom Maguire has a message of his own.
The immediate issue is that it is not enough that the US imposes a cost on Syria for using chemical weapons. The cost must be high enough to actually deter future use, but not so high that we bring down the government and allow Al Qaeda affiliated rebel groups to carry the day. Obama may be an avid golfer but I don't think he knows what club to pick for this shot.
But more importantly, what message has Obama's irresolution already sent the Iranians? Their takeaway will be that Obama can talk all he wants but until the US Congress gets involved no action is imminent.
With that lesson already learned, if Obama and his backers want to send a message to Iran they need to start by sending a resolution to Congress authorizing action against Iran. Establish Presidential authority now, rather than after a lot of empty bluster about red lines drawn by someone else.
This will make it clear to Iran's leaders that the US Congress really has drawn a red line and the President is authorized to enforce it. And this early authorization would be entirely consistent with Obama's current approach of inviting Congress in before the fact rather than ignoring them (as in Libya) or dealing with them after the fact, as required by the War Powers Act.
By week's end, Obama was hinting that he might abandon the notion of a strike on Syria. Pity that AIPAC and RJC, among others, allowed themselves to be played the fools in this unserious charade.
There is a hint that for fear of making the president look weak on the international stage, the House may not take a vote if it appears that the effort is failing. This, in my opinion, is stupid. There should be a vote, and I agree with Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit that the Republicans should refuse to vote at all until after all the Democrats have voted. Let those putting party above sanity take the fall in their districts for supporting this cockamamie operation and chief.