Politics & Policy

Barack the Hesitant

A wavering Obama is no leader to follow into war.

Editors’ note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.

Can a possibly war-bound U.S.A. survive the unbearable lightness of being Obama? As Americans weigh potential military intervention in Syria, the true grit of our GIs is unquestioned. But their hesitant and erratic commander-in-chief renders worrisome the notion of attacking Damascus.

On Wednesday, for instance, Obama told journalists in Stockholm, “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”

This is the Bart Simpson defense. Regardless of responsibility, just say, “I didn’t do it!”

In fact, on August 20, 2012, Obama declared in the White House Press Room: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime — but also to other players on the ground — that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

As NRO’s Charles C. W. Cooke brilliantly documents today, the White House on April 25 decided to “reaffirm that the president has set a clear red line as it relates to the United States that the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups is a red line that is not acceptable to us.” On May 6, Jay Carney, Obama’s official spokesman, said: “The  president’s use of the term ‘red line’ was deliberate.” 

Obama installed the tripwire for war with Syria. Now, on the brink of combat, he disowns it.

On August 30, Obama had an uncharacteristically bellicose Secretary of State John Kerry virtually announce that “bombing begins in five minutes.” But one day later, Obama startled everyone — including many of his top appointees — when he virtually announced that “debating begins in five minutes.” Obama stated that he wanted Congress’s permission for a military strike. No rush! Rather than summon lawmakers to Washington, Obama let Congress’s summer vacation roar on.

Still, Obama could have finished his Rose Garden speech, returned to the Oval Office, rolled up his sleeves, and spent the rest of August 31 ringing the ranking members and chairmen of Congress’s committees. An official photo of Obama urging their support would have signaled his single-mindedness and steely resolve.

Instead, soon after his remarks, Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden headed straight to Fort Belvoir for a round of golf — the 141st of Obama’s reign.

Such unseriousness seems to be the Obama Doctrine’s active ingredient. Consider:

• After just 19 days on duty, United Nations ambassador Samantha Power was AWOL during an August 21 U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on Syria. State Department spinmeisters pirouetted like ballerinas rather than disclose her location.

• Obama last June 13 authorized the CIA to provide arms to the Free Syrian Army. “As of right now, they haven’t received one weapon from the United States,” Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.) lamented this week. “Reports are that the United States has constrained other countries from giving them the kinds of things they need.” (In a bipartisan display of immaturity, McCain got caught playing video poker on his iPhone during Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria.)

• Last September, Obama met with precisely zero heads of state at the U.N. General Assembly, including Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who virtually begged to sit down with his American counterpart. However, Obama did find time to be “eye candy” (in Whoopi Goldberg’s words) on The View.

• Obama’s body language is the most interesting thing about the world-famous photo of him and his team in the Situation Room during the May 1, 2011, raid that liquidated Osama bin Laden. Obama is not surrounded by his advisers, nor does he preside over the action. Rather, he sits in the back corner, on the sidelines, seemingly in charge of nothing at all.

• But it got worse. As Obama’s former aide Reggie Love revealed at a UCLA forum: “Most people were like down in the Situation Room and [the president] was like, ‘I’m not going to be down there, I can’t watch this entire thing,’” Love said July 18. “So,” Love continued, referring to Obama, himself, and two other staffers, “we must have played 15 hands, 15 games of spades.”

That’s right. As Seal Team Six intrepidly descended on the man who unleashed the September 11, 2001, slaughter, their commander-in-chief played cards.

• An enduring mystery is where Obama was last September 11, the night of the Benghazi massacre. The White House has not refuted the widely held belief that he was asleep in bed while senior aides in the Situation Room monitored the murders of U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, technical officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. Obama seemingly needed to rest before a campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas the next day.

• According to a conservative watchdog group called the Government Accountability Institute, Obama skipped 58 percent of his Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) between his first inaugural and last March 31. During the entire week before Benghazi, Obama missed these interactive sessions with top intelligence personnel, preferring instead to read about the latest national-security threats on his own.

Unforgivably, Obama blew off his PDBs for three days after al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic terrorists killed these four public servants in Benghazi. Obama finally sat down for a full PDB on September 14, 2012 — his first such face-to-face huddle in nine days, according to the White House schedule. Running for reelection evidently trumped Obama’s first and most solemn duty: staying aware and ahead of America’s enemies, foreign and domestic.

• After al-Qaeda-trained crotch bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate 279 passengers and 11 crew members aboard a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day 2009, Obama should have spoken on camera to reassure rattled Americans and remind terrorists of U.S. strength. Instead, he failed to interrupt his Hawaiian holiday and did not even appear publicly for three days. Meanwhile, the National Counterterrorism Center’s then-director Michael Leiter left on December 26 for a six-day family ski trip.

• High-level congressional sources describe Obama as “aloof” and “largely disengaged” on national security. Aside from two social dinners with congressional spouses in attendance, “I’ve never met with him [Obama] one-on-one or really any other way, as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee,” recalls Representative Peter King (R., N.Y.), who led that body until last January. Obama apparently has yet to meet individually with the chairmen of other key security panels, including the House Intelligence Committee.

Back in Syria, Obama’s policy seems to be to strike — but not for long, not soon enough to destroy dictator Bashar Assad’s weapons before he hides them among civilian neighborhoods, and not hard enough to affect the civil war or topple Assad, even though Kerry compares him to Hitler. Under the War Powers Act, Obama could bomb Syria for 60 days before seeking retroactive congressional approval. And yet Obama seeks Congress’s permission to strike — though if that fails, he may smack Syria anyway.


Pounding Assad’s palaces, airfields, and military infrastructure into rubble could yield a powerful cautionary tale for other dictators who lust after chemical, biological, or atomic weapons. These genies should remain inside their brass lamps.

But even though Assad is a monster, the prospect of an al-Qaeda-friendly regime in Damascus is far more frightening.

London-based conflict journalist E. B. Hall, founder of Borderline News, has reported four times from behind rebel lines in Syria, as recently as last May. On a February 2012 visit to Aleppo, Hall encountered a group of combatants who boasted about being battle-hardened. “They have much experience,” their commander told Hall with pride. Hall asked if they had fought against American troops. He was shocked at their answer: Yes.

“It has been a defining point in my understanding of the rebels and the ebb and flow of allegiances within the region,” Hall explained to me. “Since then, the idea that we might share allegiances with some — or even select the good ones from the bad — seems incredible.”

“Whether they were Syrians who had gone to fight in Iraq, or Iraqis who had come to fight in Syria, I didn’t find out,” he added. These men are well armed, taciturn, and not eager to answer probing questions from westerners. “Yet the outcome is the same: Some of the very same rebels with whom we now seek to align ourselves, previously fired bullets at our boys.”

Why should the U.S., even unwittingly, side with those who sent our troops home from Iraq in boxes? In this sense, there is a distinct appeal in letting these 21st-century Stalins and Hitlers butcher each other.

Amid epic chaos, Obama instills no confidence. This helps explain why so many Americans are reluctant to march to the unsteady beat of this wavering drummer.

— Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service, and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


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