President Obama’s decision to defer to Congress the decision about whether to slap around Syria was a pure political masterstroke.
It wasn’t his first choice. He’s ignored Congress and the Constitution many times before, so it was no surprise when he signaled his intention to make the decision himself whether or not to attack Syria as punishment for using chemical weapons.
But sometime after the specific plans had been made and while he was still dithering, it apparently dawned on him that he had painted himself into a corner. By exhibiting chronic weakness and failing to think ahead, he had created a lose-lose situation. Any decision he made now would have substantial negative consequences and be subject to withering criticism. Here was the opportunity for bipartisan sharing!
Think about this. Mankind has been thinking and writing about military strategy for some time now. I’m pretty sure no expert on the subject has ever advocated supplying your enemy with detailed descriptions of your plan of attack before you proceed. Yet our deep-thinker-in-chief has publicly disclosed the weapons of choice, the launching sources, the duration and the limited scope of the proposed assault. No spy could have hurt us worse.
How did we get here? It started with electing a president who assured us that some of the most murderous religious fanatics on the planet were really nice guys who would succumb to his charm offensive, like we had. The Russians, Iranians, North Koreans and other inhabitants of the real world soon picked up on the fact that the President who couldn’t stop apologizing for his own country was soft and naive.
“Leading from behind” turned out to be a euphemism for indecision and weakness. When he declared a year ago that Syria would be crossing a “red line” if they deployed chemical weapons, they weren’t impressed. They went ahead.
So now, we’re in a position where, to preserve our honor, or Barack Obama’s honor or something, we’re contemplating attacking Syria because they used the wrong techniques to kill citizens. Our options are all bad.
We could follow the original Obama plan and carry out a limited attack, not a real attack, just enough to say we had done something. But the unintended consequences might be more than we bargained for.
It would bolster anti-American sentiment and would strengthen Syrian dictator Assad’s standing in the region. It very likely would set off a regional war with Israel taking the punishment. It wouldn’t even teach Syria “the lesson” about red lines nor likely deter others.
Another option, endorsed by Sen. John McCain among others, would be full military engagement with the goal of deposing the Assad regime. But even those pushing this path don’t seem sure what the endgame might be.
What could it possibly be? Al-Qaeda affiliated groups are already licking their chops, poised to take over if Assad goes down. Are we hoping to replicate our great outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq? Do we want a regime change as beneficial as Egypt’s?
Unless somebody comes up with a different plan, there’s no reason to believe we wouldn’t be spending yet more blood and treasure to in a futile attempt to establish a “stabilizing presence” in the region.
The third option is to do nothing. Yes, it would send a message (again) that U.S. leadership is unserious and vacillating to our other enemies. Yes, it would be a personal embarrassment to Obama, although he has set up Congress to take the fall if that is what they decide.
Yet in the end, doing nothing may be the least bad option. It’s not isolationism to decline a war with no real mission, no plan and no national security interests at stake. We may even be worse off if the rebels did prevail.
The take-home message to Americans is that, while on an emotional high, we elected a president who openly doubted whether American values were worth defending and who has never developed to this day a coherent foreign policy to protect our interests. This is what we got.
It’s a potentially dangerous world out there.
Next time we need to choose more thoughtfully.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson is a retired physician and former state senator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.