Obama’s Worst Foreign Policy Decision


MoDo today summed up the wisdom of everyone who championed the Iraq war and endorsed those arguments all over again. As if it never happened.

She even cites its two most persuasive proponents, McCain and Clinton. The argument is that something bad is happening in the world and because you are the American president, you need to stop it. If you don’t, you are “a wuss”. Worse, other actors, like Putin and Khamenei are intervening in Syria, so we must too – or appear “weak.” The entire scope of this argument, as with Iraq, is limited to the moral posture of the United States, the existence of an evil, the imperative of acting, and then trying to sell the American public on the action. The argument is actually weaker than for Iraq, because at least Clinton and McCain insisted at the time that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that he wanted to use against America; at the current moment, no one is saying that about Syria’s chemical arsenal. In fact, the only scenario in which the US might be the target of such weapons is if we do exactly what these “statesmen” are demanding: side with one faction or another. Then at least one side has a reason to hate us.

Does Dowd have any argument as to where such “leadership” would take us? Does she argue that arming Sunni Jihadists against Alawites and Shiites is a good thing because those Jihadists would never use such weapons or be an enemy of the US? No. Who does she want to win the Syrian civil war and why? She doesn’t say. Does she support the theological claims of Sunni Islam against Shiite Islam? I don’t know. In fact, she doesn’t explain at all what the point of her new war is, or what her preferred outcome would be. These are simply to be figured out, or in Clinton’s words, “sold” later. This foreign policy “doctrine”, if it even deserves such a designation, is essentially an endorsement of George W Bush’s presidency. Yes, MoDo hates Obama that much that in this column she has actually gone full circle and endorsed the arguments that gave us the catastrophe in a very similar country, Iraq.

Clinton also accuses the president of taking his previous, coherent and strong position on Syria not because staying out of this conflict is obviously the sanest thing to do; but because Obama is apparently just listening to the polls. The gall of Clinton of all people to accuse anyone of that level of cynicism! And the American people, he assumes, are obviously wrong. The job of a president is not to listen to them on matters of war and peace, especially if they have a collective memory longer than that of a gnat, but to ignore them, forget the lessons of the very recent past, wing it, and hope to “sell” the war later.

I write all of this in acute frustration, of course. Because I thought I understood Barack Obama’s strategy and obviously I don’t, and because I want this president to succeed and I cannot possibly see how this can lead to anything but failure. And I’m frustrated because MoDo is right about the substance and the timing of Thursday’s stomach-churning presser. How dare a sitting president delegate the explanation of such a dangerous, portentous step to anyone but himself? The sheer arrogance of that delegation of a core duty is shocking. Here’s what the president had to do that day that was more important, in his mind, than explaining why he had just committed the US to the folly of another war in another Middle Eastern country:

He spent time at an LGBT Pride Month celebration, a Father’s Day luncheon and a reception for the W.N.B.A. championship Indiana Fever basketball team.

I presumed at first this was another version of the Libya fiasco:

self-righteous hand-wringing followed by removal of a tyrant, leading to more regional destabilization and the murder of an ambassador and other Americans. Only this time, the president didn’t even muster his lame defense of the Libya mess. Or perhaps it was, as Marc Lynch calls it, a version of the Afghan surge – an act that sacrificed American lives for no conceivable end but face-saving for an exit and protecting his right flank at home. The Afghan surge remains, to my mind, morally cold. Sending mother’s sons to their death when you know it won’t work is not something even Niebuhr would endorse. But as Marc notes, at least that surge had an end-date. Not this time. So perhaps this was just a minor concession to the Sunni allies who want to win the war for their version of Islam or the European allies who keep stupidly wanting to pull off another Suez. If so, it’s an insult to them as well as to us. It won’t do anything to change anything, but will mean the US will find it progressively harder and harder to avoid more and more commitment.

So let’s posit “our side” wins. What good could possibly now come of a Sunni Jihadist victory? We’d see a mass slaughter of Alawites at best, and a metastasizing sectarian war across the Middle East in which the US would be entangled. By staying out, on the other hand, we make Putin and Iran the targets for Sunni hatred, we do not add fuel to the sectarian fire, and we do not hurt any of our strategic interests. I thought I had supported Obama over McCain and Clinton in 2008. Why are we now getting boomer-era interventionism?

For a kinder, gentler version of this screed, read Fareed. Or watch this space if and when the president deigns even to explain why he has just done what he promised never to do again.