September 3, 2013

Democrats are now talking about circumscribing the resolution on Syria to limit the duration or type of forces (e.g. no boots on the ground) the president can use. This is both unwise and revealing.

President Obama (Jason Reed/Reuters)
President Obama (Jason Reed/Reuters)

It is impossible for 535 members to craft rules of engagement, and it is impossible for the president to honestly, in advance, circumscribe what he will and will not do. This is a military engagement not a choreographed ballet. Stuff happens once the shooting starts. (In addition, a more narrow resolution runs the risk of losing GOP lawmakers like Arizona Sen. John McCain and North Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.)

Congress is trying to limit the president’s actions, I suspect, because even Democrats don’t trust him. His word about a limited strike evidently isn’t good enough for them. I don’t blame them.

Republicans share their distrust of the president, but for another reason. For over two years the gap between what the president does and what he says on Syria (put aside on everything else) has grown. “Bashar al-Assad must go” has not been tethered to any action that would reasonably bring this about. Even on specific pledges, the president doesn’t do what he says.

The Wall Street Journal  reports:

In June, the White House authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to help arm moderate fighters battling the Assad regime, a signal to Syrian rebels that the
cavalry was coming. Three months later, they are still waiting. . . .

“There’s been a major disconnect between what the administration has said it’s doing relative to the rebels and what is actually happening,” said Sen. [Bob] Corker, who recently visited rebel leaders in Turkey. “The (CIA) pipeline has been incredibly slow. It’s really hurt morale among the Syrian rebels.”

Many rebel commanders say the aim of U.S. policy in Syria appears to be a prolonged stalemate that would buy the U.S. and its allies more time to empower moderates and choose whom to support.

This is stunning on many levels.

For one thing, the president has insisted that he adhered to the red line when chemical weapons were first used because he acted; he ordered more aid to be sent. If that is not true, he’s been misleading the public and in fact has done, just as critics allege, absolutely nothing following the initial chemical weapons use reports.

Second, he has said “Assad must go,” but he now is obviously afraid to arm the rebels or tip the battlefield in their direction quickly or dramatically. What, then, does it mean for “Assad to go”?

The president’s lack of faith in non-jihadi rebels is unwarranted. From outside military experts, we know which groups are not jihadi militants and know where they operate. Listening to the president or some in Congress you would think jihadists and nonjihadists are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder or the jihadi fighters number greater than the Free Syrian Army. Neither is true. (Of course jihadi militants wouldn’t be a problem at all if President Obama hadn’t dragged his feet and allowed them to infiltrate the country).

In short, the problem Obama has and, more important, the problem the country and Congress have, is that he is not trusted as commander in chief. Congress can’t make him trustworthy by handing him a yes vote or a strategic plan. All it can do is give the president their concerted advice, namely to do something meaningful that would hasten Assad’s  downfall and give the non-jihadists the best chance to control  the aftermath.

As for Iran, honesty requires us  to acknowledge that at this point there is very little chance Iran will take any threat of military action from this president seriously. Hope for stopping Iran’s nuclear program, barring a complete turnaround by  the president and a demonstration of heretofore untapped determination in Syria, is extremely low at this point — unless of course Israel acts. That is not the best option (because the U.S. military’s capacity is greater) but unlike the president of the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can’t afford to do nothing in the face of a WMD threat.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.