The president’s Syria speech last night largely rehashed arguments he’s been making for weeks—laden with emotional imagery, incoherent red-lines, and chock full of sophisticated-sounding contradictions. He built a moral, and at times compelling, case for military action, before declaring a policy of . . . wait and see. Out with the Russian Reset Button, in with the Russian Pause Button. It was a crescendo to a nothing burger. This is of course not the first time he’s done this, even in the past week. He told us it was imperative that America act, before punting the decision to Congress—and then losing the high-stakes public debate.
For those of us who believe America’s word should mean something—and therefore Assad should face some military consequence for crossing a declared (if foolish) “red line”—the president’s handling of the Syria situation has made this position nearly indefensible. The whole spectacle has left an even more weakened President Obama, and therefore an even weaker United States, on the global stage. And, as history shows us, when America is weak—and does not lead—the world is a more dangerous, and less free, place. Hence why we’re in this position in the first place.
His speech last night was the capstone of his incoherent episode. The Wall Street Journal editorial board hit the nail on the head this morning, stating that Obama’s last-minute lunge at a Russian solution/non-solution effectively means that “Obama Rescues Assad.” Assad, and his Russian backers, will spend months (and years) delaying and denying, not being “degraded or deterred” as the president would hope. More significantly, as the Journal notes, “the Iranians will take it as a signal that they can similarly trap Mr. Obama in a diplomatic morass that claims to have stopped their nuclear program.” Iran’s nuclear pursuit is the real reason this is such a presidential fumble.
The problem the president now faces is: What next? How does he enforce this? How does he (can he) get Russia to agree to actual Syrian compliance, while maintaining the “credible threat of force” that truly is important in this equation? Will his next action be a U.N. Security Council resolution that Russia could (will) still block? Or a new congressional resolution that makes “unbelievably small” but not “pin prick”-sized military strikes contingent on Assad and Russia failing to live up to the deal they surely cannot, and will not, live up to? It’s nothing but questions, and still no serious answers.
A sad display of America equivocation and desperation, while our adversaries in Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus chuckle.