Abbott and Costello had nothing on Obama and Kerry, as our current unfolding debacle in Syria shows. I’m just not sure who’s the “straight man” in the new act.
A Red Line in the Shifting Sands
First, there was a “Red Line.” A “Red Line” that Assad of Syria must not cross – or there would be severe, immediate repercussions that involved military action! Sometime in August, the Obama Administration says that Assad crossed that red line – forces which may or may not have been under his control gassed civilians. This was it – time for Obama to prove he was a man of his word. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the airstrikes.
First, there was the whole problem of “proof.” It was difficult to get actual, certifiable proof that Assad had, in fact, ordered (or even sanctioned) the chemical weapons attack. In a country where there have been fake reports about atrocities on both sides, along with numerous real atrocities on both sides, and a constant flux about who is actually on who’s side to begin with, this was not a “slam dunk.” The best the Obama Administration could muster, according to news reports, was that the NSA had intercepted a frantic call from a mid-level military commander in Assad’s regime to the chemical weapons unit that purportedly carried out the attack demanding to know why they had used chemical weapons. Hardly “proof” that Assad knew about or sanctioned such an attack.
Russia, never one at this point to miss an opportunity to show up it’s good “friend” the USA, immediately rejected the US claims of Assad’s complicity. Assad serves a political purpose for Putin, so they have a stake in making sure he isn’t overthrown (yet). China is another one looking to play in MidEast politics, because nothing secures your bona-fides as a Superpower like getting mired in the Middle-East Conflicts. China has also rejected the idea of military action on the part of the United States.
Britain, the holders of a “special relationship” with America, immediately and most un-impressively failed to pass a resolution supporting the use of force against Assad. France first supported us, and then walked back the support. Kerry went forward last week and claimed we have a lot of “Secret Supporters.” Yes, that’s right – countries who’s support for us is so deep it must remain secret.
Obama, faced with a dwindling supply of allies, decided rather suddenly that if he couldn’t get NATO, or the UN, or the Arab League, or anybody else to support his decision that action must be taken, he would go to Congress and have them authorize the smallest of airstrikes. Just a few well-placed bombs to “punish” Assad, but not really enough to affect the outcome of the current civil war in Syria.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Such a milktoast resolution might have passed muster, had not Obama run smack dab into Public Opinion – 72 percent of which is currently against doing anything at all. The proposal started as “fire a few missiles, watch a few camels explode, have cake…” and has since become a discussion of how far is far enough without going too far while not tying the President’s hands and actually doing something significant. Hawkish Republicans want a strike only if it furthers an agenda pointed at regime change in Syria. Skittish Democrats want assurances that we are not committing to any sort of war. Nobody wants to put boots on the ground, and everyone is worried that the people we are attacking are not necessarily the worst actors on the stage!
In this uncertain climate, where a filibuster is shaping up in the Senate and a failure to pass the resolution is almost a certainty in the House, Kerry gives Syria an out – a way of avoiding military attacks that Obama seems less and less eager to make alone. It’s a “rhetorical” offer, we’re told later. If Syria gives up control of all of its chemical weapons by the end of the week – something nobody in their right mind believes Syria will agree to – the US will cancel the airstrikes.
The problem with Secretaries of State making “rhetorical” offers like this should become immediately clear. What if someone accepts the nonsense and irrational offer? What if Syria actually says “Sure, we’d be willing to do that.” What if Putin goes to Syria and sits down with Assad and appears to come home with that exact agreement. What if they say “yes.”
Like an inept prosecuting attorney, John Kerry asked a question he didn’t know the answer to. He thought he knew. Conventional wisdom and common sense told him he knew. I mean, EVERYONE knew the answer, right?
Apparently, someone forgot to tell Assad and Putin, one trying to hang on to his political and literal life, the other seeing an opening to reassert Russian prestige as a Middle East negotiator, that they weren’t supposed to say yes. Assad is supposed to be a raving maniac who gasses his own people. Putin is some “thug” ham-handedly pushing Russia back to a Cold War stance. Neither is supposed to be this politically adept. Neither is supposed to be clever enough to outwit Obama and Kerry!
So what is this? Amateur Hour at the White House? Kerry and Obama have just been outmaneuvered by a couple of hecklers who were getting a rise out of them. This is the best we have? Foreign Policy via “Off the Cuff Remark?”
“Playing the part of put-upon, misunderstood leader of a small, unimportant country this evening, Bashir Assad. The part of the war-mongering, bullying, incompetent, ugly Americans will be Barak Obama and John Kerry. The part of good-faith negotiator and worldly man about town will be played by Vladimir Putin.”
The net change in Syria over this entire fiasco? ZERO – that’s the plot twist we should have expected…..