It was the most predictable speech of Barack Obama’s presidency. He spent 15 minutes pretending that he was master and commander driving Syria policy. The truth is the Oval Office has been dragged into the middle of war it desperately wanted to avoid.
But events have landed the president in a bad place. It is clear he doesn’t have the confidence of the Congress. He probably couldn’t even get a resolution through the Senate, a chamber controlled by his own party. Asking Congress to postpone the vote was a transparent, face-saving measure.
If failing to command Congress wasn’t bad enough, the president also knows he got played by the Russians, who will spin their unworkable “diplomatic” solution into an opportunity to amp up their military support for the Assad regime.
Spin aside, Mr. Obama knows he had a bad night — and he knows whom to blame.
The president’s second-term foreign policy team is very different from those in place during his first four years in the Oval Office. John Kerry, in particular, has muscularly poked his nose in places the president would have rather left alone. Kerry was the chief cheerleader for humanitarian intervention in Syria.
When Britain bailed and Obama sent his envoys to the Hill to make the case for military intervention, Kerry and crew arguably made things worse. After days of briefing Congress, the administration found it had less support than when it started.
Kerry also wound up being the source of the Kremlin’s biggest foreign-policy coup since Napoleon gave up on taking Moscow.
When all is said and done, it is hard to not see Kerry as Obama’s Al Haig.
It is also difficult to see how Kerry makes it to the end of the term. Obama doesn’t like making foreign policy on any terms other than his own. Kerry put him off his game, and Kerry is most likely to pay the price for the Syria fiasco.
Don’t be surprised if sometime in the near future the secretary decides he wants to spend more time on his yacht.
— James Jay Carafano is vice president of defense and foreign-policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.