The Obama administration's inept handling of all things related to the Syrian civil war demonstrates a disturbing truth, on the one hand of passing but gravid significance, on the other of lasting and gravid significance.
The passing matter is that the President of the world's greatest democratic republic is, as a politician, only good at getting elected, not at exercising power. His impulse to consult Congress for authorization to take action in Syria is the most tragically obvious demonstration of his inability to date. The Wall Street Journal's poignant chronicle of the events leading to the current so-called agreement with Russia to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons captures this ineptitude most aptly. It shows that:
- While some in the White House advised the President not to take action against Syria, none advised getting authorization from Congress.
- In fact, he was advised not to get authorization, on the obvious account that the War Powers Act clearly authorized the Commander in Chief to take such actions as were contemplated in Syria. Any seeking of authorization would weaken not just Obama's position as Commander in Chief but also that of subsequent Chief Executives.
- No leader of Congress advised the President to seek authorization, and he did not discuss the tactics of seeking such authorization prior to informing Congressional leaders that he was about to ask it.
- The President made his announcement that he would seek authorization without doing what is most basic in any situation where a President asks Congress to vote: he didn't count the votes he had before he asked.
- Finding himself in what can only euphemistically be called a political impasse ("hoist by his own petard" is more fitting), the President leaped at the Russian offer to form an obviously unenforceable agreement to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons, one not even countenanced until the Secretary of State, desperate to find any way out of the mess that the President had created, improvised a statement in response to a reporter's query.
- Every action since the unintentional offer of a negotiated pretend-dismantling of Syria's WMD indicates that the President is desperate to accept any terms he is offered to get out of the political mess that he has created for himself.
We've had two complaints about BHO from the beginning. The obvious one is that his leftist ideology prevents him from seeing the world as it is and responding with policies that can work with actual people. The Affordable Care Act is the obvious outcome of that tragic flaw.
The less obvious one is this: that lacking significant experience in any endeavor, Obama is exceptionally poor at interacting with others. He doesn't just lack experience as a leader; he lacks it as a follower. Had he spent more time in Congress, he could at least have empathized with Congresspersons in a way that could enable him to work with them constructively. But he has mostly burnished his résumé and laid the foundation of his next campaign. He can raise money, recruit campaign staff, and make public appearances. He can't maneuver the political minefields of conflicting interests to build consensus and take action. When he needs to, he gets irritated, testy, even angry. In that regard he is as far from his idols, FDR and LBJ, as one can imagine. Nixon was more effective in winning political support, for goodness sake.
Along the way, we've made the assertion that the agreement with the Russians to dismantle the Syrians' chemical weapons is impossible to implement. Why this is the case is obvious, so again we list:
- Syria is an active war zone and will be for as long as the use of the gas is likely.
- Assad has used the time Obama has given him to scatter and hide his considerable stockpiles.
- Other regimes have used the time to deflect the issue to the chemical weapons held by other countries, especially Israel, which, held for the threat of retaliation in the terrible event of the use of chemical weapons by one of their enemies, of course have never been used.
- Dismantling chemical weapons is so dangerous and difficult that even the best technicians have an awful time managing it. Specifically the United States remains significantly off schedule in reducing its own stockpiles, per treaty obligations.
- The Russians, who sold Assad his poisons, are the only ones with the ability to direct their destruction. Even absent the problems of doing so at all, let alone in a war zone, they have no intrinsic reason to do so. Their motives for selling the weapons and for covering for their use remains.
- The so-called agreement has no provision for consequences should Syria not dismantle its weapons. Russia saw to it that there is no allowance for Security Council action or other international reprisal for failure to comply. It is a gentlemen's agreement between parties that aren't gentlemen.
Surely the President has been warned that he is doing what he is clearly doing, then: ceding initiative to the Russians to allow their client Assad to act with impunity. It is a restoration of the "spheres of influence" notion that allowed the Soviets to oppress Eastern Europe for the generation after World War II, at a time when Russia lacks the military or economic might to threaten costly reprisals that advise against positive action.
This is the matter of passing but gravid significance: by his ineptitude Obama has frittered away American global influence and moral standing, not to mention the power of the Presidency. With American wielding less influence that can at least imperfectly be directed toward its founding ideals (the real meaning of "American exceptionalism," Mr. Putin), the world will be more subject to the changing winds of nationalist, power politics, and all the worse for it.
This is a matter of passing significance because this President will not be President forever. It is a matter of lasting significance because these actions will have a legacy, like the legacy of Vietnam, or more specifically the response to Vietnam, which left tyranny with a much stronger hand for a decade or more. Now Iran and North Korea have a stronger hand, as do elements that would take internationally placid authoritarian regimes (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Egypt) in a more hostile direction. And the French (under a socialist President, sacre bleu!) would be justified if they never spoke to us again.
Finally, we ask Christians of the political right and the political left to take a realistic clue about the situation in Syria.
Assad's brutality historically has had one salubrious effect: he prevented outright atrocities against what remains of the Christian minority in Syria. Now, in the vacuum of power left by the civil war, Islamist forces have done what Islamist forces do to Christians.
This is what it is: anti-Christian atrocity committed by radical Islamists. But this is what it is not: the definitive clue to a Manichean explanation of Syrian politics, showing that Assad is the good guy and the "rebels" are bad. Most of all, this provides no justification whatsoever for the ridiculous belief--advanced by Assad, Putin, and Sean Hannity--that the rebels, who have no gas, did the gassing. Yet such views are being advanced exactly so: the rebels include Al Qaida elements; those elements have committed atrocities against Christians; good is therefore on the side of the Syrian government; all atrocities have been committed by the rebels.
For Christians on the right, this miserable nonlogic gets blended with their irrational desire to see Obama fail. For Christians on the left, this miserable nonlogic gets blended with their irrational dogma that pacifism advances peace. For both, the miserable nonlogic gets blended with war-weariness, one of the long-term costs of living in exceptional America, we fear. And for all that, otherwise rational people will believe that people with little motive and no opportunity did what all the evidence says someone else, with plenty of motive and opportunity, not to mention a record of doing similar things, did.
Don't be fools, earnest believers. Assad gassed Syrian civilians en masse. You're being played if you think otherwise.