Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Obama in a Corner in the Oval Office

Whose red line is it, anyway?

Last year, it sure sounded like President Obama was the person calling Assad's hypothetical use of chemical warfare a red line.  A red line between the United States staying out of Syria, and the United States blasting Syria to Kingdom Come.

Today, however, speaking from Sweden, and attempting to rationalize his curious waffling on the subject, Obama said the red line wasn't his, but the world's.

Trouble is, not only does the world not want to own the red line, but we still don't know who's responsible for deploying the chemicals of which that red line consisted.  Obama and his cabinet are earnestly trying to pin the tail on Bashar al-Assad, but how do we know Syria's rebels aren't to blame?

And what makes now, after 100,000 Syrians have been killed in their two-year-long civil war, the perfect time to bomb?  Haven't we learned anything from Afghanistan and Iraq?

Foreign Policy Can Become Domestic Policy

For whatever virtue with which he's been able to impress liberals in his domestic agenda, the president hasn't been able to win accolades from anybody for his international diplomacy.  He's enjoyed some partisan victories at home, particularly in the areas of healthcare and even gay marriage, but foreign affairs have remained just that to him:  foreign.

His predecessor, George W. Bush, was blasted for being too aggressive in his foreign policy; Obama, from bowing to Saudi royalty, to undermining our relationship with our greatest ally, Great Britain, too wimpy and uninformed.  He seemed content to let Hillary Clinton traipse around the globe, nob-nobbing with foreign leaders and fortifying her own political credentials.  Now that she's gone, however, the hapless John Kerry looks like he's way in over his head.  Not only that, but Kerry can't even rely on his boss for insight; a president who, in his second term, should be a seasoned international veteran by now.

Unfortunately for us all, he's anything but.

Meanwhile, senior management over at the Defense Department, in the wake of Leon Panetta's retirement, is even more brittle and unconvincing.

Not that things were going smoothly when Clinton and Panetta were covering up for Obama's international lapses.  The Arab Spring caught the White House by surprise.  Libya looked like it might be salvageable, until the unmitigated fiasco in Benghazi.  Egypt has proven that billions of dollars in aid mean absolutely nothing when it comes to our prerogative in offering advice during their political meltdown.  Israel has been forced to fend for itself - which hasn't entirely been a bad thing, since they act like a petulant teenager most of the time anyway.  All of the leopard-print swag and BMW bling in Lebanon can't keep it from being one bombing away from another civil war.  And it the midst of it all, Obama throws his own pouting fit and declines to officially meet with Vladimir Putin because Russia's letting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden face the first real winter of his life in Moscow, instead of Leavenworth.

Oh yeah - that's another sore spot with our allies:  the extent to which Uncle Sam has been surreptitiously spying on their e-mails, phone calls, and website visits.  And Obama's been pooh-poohing it all.

And we haven't even mentioned Africa, where militant Islamic extremism has been on the warpath against ethnic Christians in several countries.  Or North Korea, where brutal repression against dissidents remains the status quo.  Or China, where crackdowns against religious and free speech advocates appears to be on the rise.

With all of the brutality, warfare, and denial of civil rights across the globe, what was it about Syria, Assad, and chemical weapons that made Obama see red lines? 

Trying to be diplomatic, many of Obama's fellow Democrats are saying that just because he's talked himself into a corner, that's no reason for us not to go ahead and give him what he wants.  Hey - it's not even like we'll be setting a precedent for attacking a country without ironclad proof of wrongdoing.  A number of Republicans are joining in the chorus of needing to honor our country by backing up our president's unwise threats so we'll save face amongst the international community.  Secretary Kerry even says that other Muslim countries will pay the bill.

Like we didn't hear that before with Iraq, and how all their oil money would reimburse our Treasury.

It's as if some weird world exists within the Beltway that is completely removed from the reality the rest of us can see and understand.  We've all known that such a parallel universe exists for people wandering any halls of power, but to so cavalierly pursue armed conflict with no clear goals, no clear proof, no clear plan, no clear mandate, and no clear way of knowing how our job will be over - if it can ever truly end - just seems so... utterly irresponsible.

Meanwhile, people are dying in circumstances for which we have far greater proofs of inhumanity, and we haven't even talked about red lines in those places.  Places like Sudan, Nigeria, Congo, Yemen, and even Peru, northwest Pakistan, and the Philippines, where a combined total of about 17,000 people were killed in various conflicts just in 2012.  What makes an arbitrary point of demarcation in Syria, where "only" half the death toll comprises civilians, more compelling than lives being taken in any other conflict in any other country?  If Obama had an obvious foreign policy upon which we could base these decisions, then perhaps rank and file Americans wouldn't be as opposed to attacking Syria as we are.

But then again, maybe this is Obama's foreign policy:  protecting his own reputation?

Cutting Corners

As his predecessor's second term was winding down, pundits had a field day ridiculing how history would view his time in the Oval Office.  Such ridicule was based on serious international foibles such as the lack of weapons of mass destruction Bush insisted Saddam Hussein held.

Part of the reason we have history is so that we can learn from it.  To a certain extent, Bush's horrendous gamble in Iraq can be faulted on some egregiously hawkish militancy from members of his cabinet, who may have been out for vengeance for Hussein's legacy with the first Bush president.  Was Bush the son duped by loyalists of Bush the father?  That's a question history may eventually unravel for us.

Obama, however, has absolutely no excuse for how he's handling Syria.  He came into power promising to not repeat the mistakes of the past.  One even wonders if 43 has been on the phone with him, pleading, "Dude!  It's a trap!  Take it from me - I've been there!"

Maybe there's something about the Oval Office itself.  Maybe it's the air conditioning, or maybe it's situated on the highest spot of the White House grounds, and the altitude gets to its occupants.  Maybe gasses being vented from the executive mansion's subterranean command center and bomb shelters are released near the Oval Office.  Maybe the electronic surveillance equipment they've got hooked up there to monitor all of us is emitting an electronic field that is messing with presidential blood flow and cognitive capabilities.  Maybe it's that there are no right angles in the Oval Office, or flat walls.

Whatever it is, something is making people do some foolish things in that room.  Maybe Obama doesn't know when he's gotten himself into a corner he can't get out of, because there are no corners in the Oval Office.

Indeed, he's managed to back himself into one anyway.  Too bad he doesn't see that there are no red lines preventing his escape.  And if there were, might they be painted with the blood of inhumanity's victims around the globe, whose deaths Obama apparently thinks are of less consequence?

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