Foreign policy pros aghast at Obama's 'rookie mistake' on Syria

Thomas Lifson
As Congress prepares to debate President Obama's proposed strike on Syria, normally taciturn foreign policy experts, including some former members of his diplomatic team, are letting the Solons know that we do not have a steady hand at the helm. Writing at left wing website Buzzfeed, Miriram Elder cites one such critic:

Frederic Hof spent President Obama's first term as the State Department's point man on Syria. He is now a furious administration critic, and a symbol of the growing consensus in the professional foreign policy community that the Obama Administration - no matter how its last-minute detour through Congress turns out - has badly bungled its Syria policy through two years of popular uprising turned bloody civil war.

"The events of the past ten days suggest that there was no administration forethought to the possibility of a major chemical incident in Syria," wrote Hof, currently a fellow at the Atlantic Council, where his former boss is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Hof had floated the specter of a chemical attack by the regime months ago.

"The results of this mystifying lack of preparedness have been abysmal," he wrote, calling Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for the strikes "constitutionally sound, but strategically appalling" and suggesting the White House find "an objectives-based strategy."

Hof struck at what, for those who spend their time thinking about grand strategy and not domestic politics, is the heart of the matter. The administration has consistently separated the goals it hopes to achieve with a military strike - punish Assad, send a warning to similar states, restore U.S. credibility - from the objectives it hopes to achieve politically: to reach a negotiated peace in Syria with Assad no longer at the country's helm. In terms of strategic planning, the separation of the two is almost a rookie error.

It is quite extraordinary for such an important foreign policy honcho to publicly speak so candidly about his former boss, especially when that boss is still in office.

The Associated Press's White House correspondent Julie Pace explains that extent to which Obama is operating as almost a lone wolf, ignoring or overruling his experts in the State Department and elsewhere, and holing up with close political advisors to make (and change) political decisions:

As Obama grappled with putting military action to a vote in Congress, he didn't consult his foreign policy team. Instead, he sought out Denis McDonough, a longtime adviser who now serves as his chief of staff. And most of the administration's foreign policy leadership was absent from the Oval Office meeting Friday night when the president informed several advisers about his decision to seek congressional approval.

Rice, a member of the White House staff, was in the room. But Kerry and Hagel were only informed about the decision later that night during phone calls from the president.

"All power flows from and into the White House," said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations and current vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "He's relied, not surprisingly, on a very close circle of trusted advisers. He really is a controlling foreign policy president."

So, we have a "controlling foreign policy president" who thinks he knows more than his experts, who casually drew a red line and made a "rookie mistake" on strategy. Now he is left with the task of diverting blame for the downstream consequences of his threatened attack on Syria to Congress.

The mainstream media will never inform the general public of the depth of incompetence of the president. But overseas media who are not necessarily committed to maintaining the public image of the First Black President are not so shy. There is every possibility that Obama could trigger a disaster with his planned strike. Syria, Iran, and others get a vote in determining what happens next.

God save the United States.

As Congress prepares to debate President Obama's proposed strike on Syria, normally taciturn foreign policy experts, including some former members of his diplomatic team, are letting the Solons know that we do not have a steady hand at the helm. Writing at left wing website Buzzfeed, Miriram Elder cites one such critic:

Frederic Hof spent President Obama's first term as the State Department's point man on Syria. He is now a furious administration critic, and a symbol of the growing consensus in the professional foreign policy community that the Obama Administration - no matter how its last-minute detour through Congress turns out - has badly bungled its Syria policy through two years of popular uprising turned bloody civil war.

"The events of the past ten days suggest that there was no administration forethought to the possibility of a major chemical incident in Syria," wrote Hof, currently a fellow at the Atlantic Council, where his former boss is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Hof had floated the specter of a chemical attack by the regime months ago.

"The results of this mystifying lack of preparedness have been abysmal," he wrote, calling Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for the strikes "constitutionally sound, but strategically appalling" and suggesting the White House find "an objectives-based strategy."

Hof struck at what, for those who spend their time thinking about grand strategy and not domestic politics, is the heart of the matter. The administration has consistently separated the goals it hopes to achieve with a military strike - punish Assad, send a warning to similar states, restore U.S. credibility - from the objectives it hopes to achieve politically: to reach a negotiated peace in Syria with Assad no longer at the country's helm. In terms of strategic planning, the separation of the two is almost a rookie error.

It is quite extraordinary for such an important foreign policy honcho to publicly speak so candidly about his former boss, especially when that boss is still in office.

The Associated Press's White House correspondent Julie Pace explains that extent to which Obama is operating as almost a lone wolf, ignoring or overruling his experts in the State Department and elsewhere, and holing up with close political advisors to make (and change) political decisions:

As Obama grappled with putting military action to a vote in Congress, he didn't consult his foreign policy team. Instead, he sought out Denis McDonough, a longtime adviser who now serves as his chief of staff. And most of the administration's foreign policy leadership was absent from the Oval Office meeting Friday night when the president informed several advisers about his decision to seek congressional approval.

Rice, a member of the White House staff, was in the room. But Kerry and Hagel were only informed about the decision later that night during phone calls from the president.

"All power flows from and into the White House," said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations and current vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "He's relied, not surprisingly, on a very close circle of trusted advisers. He really is a controlling foreign policy president."

So, we have a "controlling foreign policy president" who thinks he knows more than his experts, who casually drew a red line and made a "rookie mistake" on strategy. Now he is left with the task of diverting blame for the downstream consequences of his threatened attack on Syria to Congress.

The mainstream media will never inform the general public of the depth of incompetence of the president. But overseas media who are not necessarily committed to maintaining the public image of the First Black President are not so shy. There is every possibility that Obama could trigger a disaster with his planned strike. Syria, Iran, and others get a vote in determining what happens next.

God save the United States.