Category Archives: Syria

Blurred Red Lines

Obama is a blatant liar. And I’ll say for the um-teenth time – don’t expect the “honorable liberal press” to call him to task about it.
President Obama isn’t easy to follow up San Juan Hill, or for that matter even Capitol Hill. Rather than walk point on national security, he prefers to blend in with the enlisted men and women. Consider his astonishing statement on Wednesday at a press conference in Stockholm about his comments last year drawing a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad in Syria.

“First of all, I didn’t set a red line,”  [WHAT???!?!?!] the President said. “The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98% of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war.

Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty.  [Are you kidding me? This isn’t a lie?] Congress set a red line when it indicated that—in a piece of legislation titled the Syria Accountability Act—that some of the horrendous things that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for.”

Then the President further blurred his own red lines by explaining whose credibility is at risk in the Syria vote in Congress: “Point number two, my credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line. And America and Congress’s credibility is on the line  [… unbelievable…] because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”

If a President wants to lose a vote in Congress, this is what he would say. Minimize his personal leadership responsibility, and tell the Members of Congress that they are responsible for whatever happens if they fail to pass his resolution, as well as for the results of any military action that Mr. Obama would conduct.

As if on cue, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday passed a Syria use-of-force resolution but only by a disconcerting 10-7 vote. Mr. Obama lost two Democrats and five Republicans, including Senators who are far from isolationists such as John Barrasso of Wyoming and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Mr. Obama still hasn’t figured out after five years in office that America is the only enforcer of world order, and thus that there is no substitute for the President of the United States. Mr. Obama can’t default to “the international community,” whatever that is, much less to Congress. He has to lead. If he loses on Syria, it will be because he hasn’t.
Review & Outlook: Blurred Red Lines –


The Politics of the Obama Delay on Syria

Put me down as a “No!” vote on supporting military action against Assad. It’s not where this article ends up, but I do not believe we can continue to allow Obama to blame everything on someone else.


The most telling line in President Obama’s Saturday Syria address came near the end, when he (once again) lectured Congress about its duty to rise above “partisan differences or the politics of the moment.” Having put America’s global credibility at risk, Mr. Obama defaulted to the same political cynicism that has defined his presidency.

The commander in chief is in a box. His desperation to avoid military entanglement in Syria last year—in the run-up to the presidential election—inspired Mr. Obama to fumble out his “red line” warning to Bashar Assad on chemical-weapons use. The statement was a green light to the dictator to commit every atrocity up to that line and—when he received no pushback—to cross it.

Now trapped by his own declaration, Mr. Obama is reverting to the same strategy he has used in countless domestic brawls—that is, to lay responsibility for any action, or failure of action, on Congress. The decision was made easier by the fact that Congress itself was demanding a say.

That proved too tempting for a president whose crude calculus is that Congress can now rescue him however it votes. Should Congress oppose authorizing action against Syria, he can lay America’s failure to honor his promises on the legislative branch. Obama aides insist that even if Congress votes no, the president may still act—though they would say that. The idea that Mr. Obama, having lacked the will to act on his own, would proceed in the face of congressional opposition is near-fantasy.

Mr. Obama must figure that if he gets authorization, he nets two political wins. He provides himself cover for taking action, while simultaneously presenting Congress’s vote as affirmation of his flawed plan to lob a few missiles and call it a day. When that pinprick bombing has no discernible effect on Assad’s murderous campaign, Mr. Obama will note that this was Congress’s will. As he said in his Saturday speech, “all of us should be accountable” for Mr. Obama’s actions.

A congressional vote is all the more tantalizing to a president who lives and breathes rough politics, and who knows that this Syria debate will be particularly punishing for Republicans. The coming weeks will highlight the growing rift in the GOP between the traditional defenders of national security and the party’s libertarian-isolationist wing. While the latter does not yet occupy a large space in the GOP, its members are loud and wield much influence among the cranky conservative grass roots.

Those Republicans who might be expected to vote for a military strike will be pressured by the threat of primary challengers using that vote against them. They will likely be accused of helping Mr. Obama extract himself from his box. The president is going to enjoy this show, all the more so if it results in upheaval for Republicans in next year’s midterms.

Likewise, he will enjoy putting on the spot the GOP’s hawks, like Sen. John McCain, who have been merciless in their criticism of an Obama military strategy that will do nothing to end Syria’s civil war or depose Assad. With the authorization Mr. Obama has sent to Congress, he is forcing Republicans to choose between an inconstant strategy and a “no” vote that harms American interests. When did a U.S. commander in chief last so cynically play politics with American credibility?

Finally, Mr. Obama is betting that the GOP rift will divert attention from the most pertinent aspect of this debate: the extent to which his own party abandons him. The president’s withdrawal from the world stage—his exit from Afghanistan and Iraq, in particular—has nurtured the Democratic Party’s worst instincts and left it even more resistant to a call for military action. Mr. Obama is counting on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to corral votes for him, but the liberal Democratic wing is not a sure bet.

Americans do not want to think that the president is making grave decisions about military action and U.S. standing on the basis of political calculation. Yet Mr. Obama has treated Syria as a political problem from the start, viewing it almost solely as a liability to the administration’s public-opinion polling, its presidential electioneering and its rival domestic priorities. Viewing Mr. Obama’s punt to Congress as anything but political is almost impossible. And yet the president again lectures Congress to rise above the “partisan” politics that he has, with great calculation, dumped on them.

The challenge for Republicans is to do just that, to remember (no matter how painful) that this is not a vote about the president or his machinations.  [It isn’t?  I am not so sure about that.]  The only question before Republicans is this: Will they send a message to the world’s despots that America will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction? If they will not send that message, they risk complicity in this president’s failed foreign policy. [Why? I don’t think Ms. Strassel’s logic holds up to her conclusion.]

Ms. Strassel writes the Journal’s Potomac Watch column.

A version of this article appeared September 3, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Politics Of the Obama Delay on Syria.

Kimberley Strassel: The Politics of the Obama Delay on Syria –


The Hawk’s Case Against Obama on Syria

Once again, Obama uses the exact logic to support his position that he used to oppose Bush – yet the press will not call him out on it. Makes me sick[er]…


Perhaps historians will provide a clear understanding of Barack Obama’s head-snapping decision to pause his administration’s urgent case for military strikes in Syria to seek the formal authorization he says he doesn’t need from a Congress he disdains.

Until then, the struggle to make sense of the Obama administration’s ad hoc decision-making and confusing rhetoric on Syria will continue. The latest twist came Wednesday, when the president tried to explain away his declaration last summer that “the red line for us” would be Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. “I didn’t set a red line,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden, claiming that he had been speaking for the entire world—even Congress.

He was similarly considerate of Congress on Saturday, when in announcing his decision he explained that he is “mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy” and that the power of America is “rooted not just in our military might but in our example as a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Mr. Obama hasn’t always been mindful of such things, boasting for three years of his willingness to disregard Congress. At Georgetown University three months ago, Mr. Obama announced that he would bypass Congress to address what he described as the urgent threat of climate change. Global warming, he averred, “is a challenge that does not pause for partisan gridlock. It demands our attention now.” He has done the same on immigration and the economy. “If Congress won’t act, I will,” he has said.

Even on matters of war and peace, Mr. Obama has ignored Congress. He didn’t consult Congress before launching military strikes in Libya in March 2011, and on the same day a bipartisan group of lawmakers filed suit to force him to seek congressional authorization, the administration sent Congress a 32-page report that included an explanation as to why the president could act without legislative approval. The report argued that the limited campaign, which featured no U.S. ground troops, was “consistent” with the 1973 War Powers Act and does not “require further authorization.”

It is therefore not surprising that congressional Republicans, once likened to “terrorists” by Vice President Joe Biden, are skeptical that Mr. Obama’s decision to seek a legislative imprimatur on Syria grows out of a sudden interest in bipartisanship and the constitution. That the president’s longtime adviser, David Axelrod, gleefully tweeted about the political implications—calling Congress “the dog that caught the car”—only feeds the cynicism.

It isn’t at all unreasonable to wonder whether Mr. Obama’s decision to go to Congress is little more than an attempt to share responsibility with Republicans for authorizing an intervention that goes badly, or to blame them for constraining him if they don’t.

Nevertheless, the president’s political maneuvering alone shouldn’t keep Republicans from supporting intervention. What should stop them are doubts about his plans and competence. This is especially true for hawks who might otherwise be inclined to support him.

When administration sources first leaked two weeks ago the president’s parameters for intervention, they said two criteria guided his thinking: Military action would neither seek to alter the course of the war on the ground nor target regime leadership. This was an odd declaration of self-imposed restrictions, especially for a president who has said for more than a year that Bashar Assad must go. And it invited an obvious question: What’s the point? The president elaborated when he told PBS’s “NewsHour” that any strikes would be a “shot across the bow” to the Assad regime.

But in announcing that his message is merely to send a message, the president undermined his primary objective. A “shot across the bow” implies further action if the warning is unheeded. In his repeated assurances that any U.S. action would be “limited” and “tailored” and “narrow,” Mr. Obama has made clear that he has little appetite for escalation.

The decision to escalate is not his alone. As former CIA Director Michael Hayden said Monday on CNN, there is a strong likelihood that Assad and his patrons in Tehran will retaliate: “We want it to be one and done—the president’s made that very clear: Very limited strikes, very limited objectives—deterring, degrading the potential use of chemical weapons. He’s doing it, our president, to show resolve . . . . But guess what, Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies are going to want to show resolve, too. They’re not going to want to give the United States a free ride for this kind of action.”

The Iranians, Mr. Hayden says, will be “engineering some kind of response.” What will Obama do then?

Even Syrians who might benefit from U.S. military intervention are apprehensive about the limited strikes telegraphed by the White House. “A light strike would be worse than doing nothing,” Abdel Jabbar Akaidi, head of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo province, told Syria Deeply, a blog about the conflict, this week. “If it’s not the death blow, this game helps the regime even more. The Syrian people will only suffer more death and devastation when the regime retaliates.”

On Aug. 20, 2012, Mr. Obama described his “red line” on Syria. “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 being moved around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”

But when U.S. intelligence confirmed in June that Syria had used chemical weapons, nothing changed. White House national security aide Ben Rhodes declared that this breach of Mr. Obama’s red line would trigger “military support”—meaning lethal aid—from the U.S. to the Syrian opposition. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry testified that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons 14 times.

The U.S. aid never arrived.

To believe that an Obama-led intervention will end well requires disregarding everything he’s done—or hasn’t done—over two years in favor of an illusory expectation that he’ll act with newfound determination to shape the outcome in a region ravaged by war. That’s unlikely.

There are many reasons for the U.S. to intervene in Syria: more than 100,000 dead, two million refugees, the repeated use of chemical weapons by a dictator who sponsors anti-American terrorists and is the puppet of a regime in Iran that is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror. The moral imperative is clear; the strategic case is solid.

But a successful intervention requires a commander in chief committed to changing the war’s momentum and changing the regime in Damascus. The White House has eschewed both. The only thing worse than not intervening in Syria would be a failed intervention—an outcome that will make future American interventions, by this president or another, in Syria or elsewhere, even more difficult.

If President Obama exercises the authority he claims and launches a serious campaign to end the slaughter in Syria and change the regime in Damascus, Republicans should support him. Until he does, they should oppose him.

Mr. Hayes is a senior writer for the Weekly Standard.

Stephen F. Hayes: The Hawk’s Case Against Obama on Syria –