The Corner

A Fundamental Absence of Seriousness

We are told hypocrisies are Obama’s problem: Republicans who are usually pro-war don’t support this war only because of Obama; Democrats who are usually anti-war can’t support this war for Obama without being shown up as sudden pro-war hypocrites.

Some of that may be true, but the real reason is in the Oval Office, and it concerns a lack of purpose and commitment that has scared off 70 percent of the American people.

The problem Obama and his team have in convincing voters and the Congress to support his preemptory bombing of Syria is that few believe this administration is really serious about its foreign policy — and they do not see the sloppy idea of killing a few hundred or thousand people and destroying some stuff in Syria as essential to restoring American credibility in the Middle East, boxing in Iran, and creating a Third Way in Syria.

Instead, Syria over the last year has sort of been like the employer mandate, one moment absolutely essential to the survival of the country, the next a bit problematic, and so, well, let’s just forget about it for the time being.

If Obama does not bomb Syria next week, in two weeks we will hear the usual recriminations between golf outings — the same old, same old blame Congress, Bush, etc. Then, in three weeks, he will be back to the next empty pontification and make-no-mistake-about-it sermon, and he will have a new war to wage on the home front against all sorts of dastardly domestic opponents before resetting abroad. Sometimes the administration’s unserious attitude is apparent in the trivial (e.g., Obama and Reggie Love playing serial hands of cards during the bin Laden raid, Obama vanishing during the long night of the Benghazi disaster, David Axelrod sneering of the Syria vote that the congressional dog is hitting the car).

But more often there is a far more dangerous confusion.The public has been so flipped and flopped over Syria that it has lost any faith it might have had in the endeavor — given all the redlines and game changers that became pink lines and game non-changers and imminent cruise-missile launchings and sudden back-offs. The “shot across the bow” became the big shot against the big ship. Going it alone but consulting Congress (and maybe going it alone). Time is of the essence, but also not of the essence. Allies are on board, but only sorta, kinda, maybe later on board. Syria costs money, but may the sheiks could pay for it. The UN is hocus pocus, but now maybe worth a go. The Brits always stand with us, but apparently not this time around. Assad was a reformer, maybe a moderate, and snubbed unfairly during the Bush administration, but now he’s so diabolical that only Hitlerian similes suffice. The chairman of the joint chiefs reminds us of the strategic issues at stake, but also that Syria is a ten-year mess, far more difficult than Libya, and a civil war where there are all sorts of sides that we know nothing about.

About the only narrative Obama and his team can agree on is that “Iraq” soured the American people and so kind of blew Obama’s chances for a second attack after the Libyan mess.

Instead, could Obama’s Vulcans — Kerry, Hagel, Dempsey, Rice, and Brennan — give a brief joint press conference, in which they masterfully handled sharp questions and in sober and reserved tones mapped out the general outlines of the impending attack, confident in their ability to answer legitimate challenges?

If we really do want to go to war, can’t they speak to us without the usual share of Obama’s braggadocio and redlines — and Kerry’s pontificating, Hagel’s muteness, Dempsey’s equivocation, and Rice’s politicking — and just supply a tiny bit of non-partisan analysis and logic?

I don’t think that has or will happen. Instead, the war is sold on “trust us” when trust and transparency are rarely evident in this administration’s foreign policy.

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