President Obama is a victim of his own poor choices. Based on inconclusive evidence about a poison gas attack, he needlessly threatened to plunge America into the Syrian nightmare with neither strategy nor goal.
His ineffectual saber-rattling, if carried forward, would almost certainly make nearly every aspect of the chaotic situation worse: aiding al-Qaeda, abetting the massacre of Christians and other minorities, destabilizing chemical weapon bunkers, slaughtering civilians as collateral, ratcheting up regional tensions, inviting bloody blowback, jeopardizing our geopolitical allies, and risking further entanglement—all on the American taxpayer dime. Ironically, a punitive strike could even empower Assad, who would not be targeted for death and would likely gain a morale boost after withstanding an ill-conceived “shot across the bow” from the planet’s predominant military. Restraint was not on Obama’s radar. Nor, apparently, was rationality. One low point occurred when John Kerry, who was against wars of choice before he was for them, suggested that Sunni Arab states would fund Obama’s adventurism. Was he implying that America’s military is a janissary corps to be hired out in Islamic civil wars?
But restraint has been forced on Obama by global opinion, by the American people, and by a rallying congressional Coalition of the Sane—not to mention by Russia, whose president, ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin, has just published a call for peace with a rebuke of American exceptionalism in the New York Times.
From his cat’s cradle of red lines to his war puppets capering in their absurdist theatre of ridiculous and conflicting statements, Obama has transmogrified American foreign policy into a tragicomedy of incompetent and hypocritical militancy. Remember that he first won his presidency on an antiwar platform against Hillary Clinton and John McCain, attacking George W. Bush’s record of counterproductive intervention. But instead of “hope and change,” he continued on the madcap Mideast warpath, triggering a failed Afghan troop surge, executing an executive entrance into the Libyan War that resulted in Benghazi and helped demolish neighboring Mali, and unleashing a hellfire of drone strikes that have killed innocent children and enflamed global jihadist sentiment. That, then, is the Nobel Laureate’s record abroad, even as he expanded the Orwellian security state at home, further constricting civil liberties, and continued to feed American’s insatiable military-industrial appetite. At this point any mention of Guantanamo would be almost gratuitous.
And now, with Syria, his administration has spent the past few weeks promoting a reckless and unjust war of choice. Pope Francis is right about Syria, about the need to work for a peaceful resolution in that suffering nation, just as Pope John Paul II was right about Iraq.
Yes, indeed: the discordant echoes of Iraq are heard everywhere in Washington these days—and the widespread skepticism they engender has nothing to do with libelous pontifications about “isolationism” to a justifiably war-wary citizenry.
In addition to inconclusive evidence about Assad’s responsibility for the chemical weapon strike, Elisabeth O’Bagy, whose “field research” into the supposed “moderation” of Syria’s rebels is a cornerstone of the liberal interventionist and neoconservative case for war, was fired on 9/11 for her misrepresentations. She wrote the widely circulated Wall Street Journal editorial about Syria’s “moderate” opposition that Kerry and McCain touted while they bayed for a brute response. Under the stewardship of Obama and the people who brought us Iraq, this administration and its hawkish allies on the Right are revealed to have made their argument for more Mideast conflict in part through the testimony of O’Bagy, now jobless, who faked her doctorate and failed to disclose that she is a paid lobbyist for a rebel cause that is in fact intertwined with al-Qaeda.
If Kerry and McCain can’t vet her, how can they vet the Syrian rebels? If she can fake her doctorate, can the rebels—who encompass war criminals and comingle with a confederation of America’s mortal terrorist enemies—fake political moderation as “freedom fighters”? Leading Syria analysts think so and dismiss O’Bagy’s narrative as flawed. The clear record of Islamists imposing Sharia Law throughout rebel territory, not to mention al-Qaeda fighters persecuting desperate people in ancient Christian towns, speaks for itself.
In another twist to the Gordion Knot, news outlets are now reporting that the first shipments of the U.S. weapons that Obama promised the rebels have been delivered. The movie “Lord of War” comes to mind.
Dovish progressives are rightly outraged at Obama. So are conservative realists worthy of the name. Everyone from traditionalists to libertarians understands that utopian fantasies about global democracy promotion, especially when such flights of fancy are given wing on bombs, have a ruinous record when blasted into the Middle East. The opportunity for some constructive political realignment via Catholic Social Teaching is dazzling, but it remains only a possible silver lining to the building Syrian storm.
On Tuesday night, after Russia flipped Kerry’s gaffe into a diplomatic solution to avoid escalatory bloodshed, Obama gave a vacuous face-saving speech that signaled a dangerous complacency with a problematic situation that demands ownership and extrication. His inept and purposeless plans are now in limbo. He faced a choice: the Russian proposal, perhaps disingenuous, with almost no practical chance of success, or his unilateral war against a bipartisan congressional alliance, against American public opinion, and against the international consensus. His haphazard aggression was to blame for these bad options.
What did he choose?
He chose both. He chose neither. In the end, after viewing his speech, one must conclude that Obama, confronted with the consequences of his terrible decisions, cannot make any decision at all.
A victim of his own poor choices indeed. The farcical fiasco he constructed is an existential contradiction to intelligent foreign policy. His apparent helplessness would be merely embarrassing if it weren’t so dangerous.