It must be maddening spinning for the White House. The White House says Obamacare is fine, so the media spinners parrot that again and again — until the White House admits all is not well. The White House insist the president never promised you can keep your health care, so the spinners repeat that one — until the White House sort of apologizes. You do wonder if the pundits ever get tired of being hung out to dry.
Nowhere is the lunacy of the spin more evident than on Syria. You had a flock of liberals declaring the president’s about-face on Syria’s weapons of mass destruction was a brilliant move and he’d been right to insist we have no interests there. And then, three years after conservatives demanded stronger action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the president declares himself “frustrated.” (Oh, and the WMD deal isn’t really disarming Assad, just as conservative hawks predicted.) I suppose it really has been a disaster all along.
The disaster, of course, is the president’s. It was his insistence on doing nothing — over the objections at various times of Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta — that has brought us to this sorry state of affairs. As a former Republican official put it, “This rests entirely on his shoulders.”
Notwithstanding, we should not absolve aides and advisers of all responsibility here. ABC’s Jonathan Karl mused that Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is “haunted” by the debacle. He reminds us that her whole career was built on making an argument about the responsibility to protect when you have a crisis like this. And now she’s saying, it’s the biggest crisis in a generation and the United States is effectively doing nothing. Well, she could have quit. That is what people of principle do in order to call attention to a disastrous and immoral policy. But if that’s personally untenable because the lure of power is too great, she should be “haunted” by the atrocities unfolding on her watch.
The administration’s naiveté — or was it willful blindness? — is quite striking. Kerry this weekend spoke of the Geneva talks as if it were impossible to predict how badly things could have gone or that Assad would have refused pleas to leave after the United States showed no will to tip the battlefield against him. (“None of us are surprised that the talks have been hard, and that we are at a difficult moment, but we should all agree that the Assad regime’s obstruction has made progress even tougher. . . . While it stalled in Geneva, the regime intensified its barbaric assault on its civilian population with barrel bombs and starvation. It has even gone as far as to add some of the opposition delegates at Geneva to a terrorist list and seize their assets.”) He called the regime’s behavior “reprehensible.” Indignation without will to act — that’s all he’s got.
Assad’s continued barbarism and diplomatic stonewalling were perfectly foreseeable, if not inevitable, once President Obama signaled he had no stomach for robust involvement. It is, as Kerry would say, reprehensible that the president pursued a policy so lacking in humanitarian and geopolitical insight for so long — and that so many aides never felt compelled to quit and/or come out publicly to decry the United States’ inactivity.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), among the most vigorous opponents of the president on this issue made clear on Sunday, the first step is “to recognize that the policy towards Syria has been an abysmal failure and a disgraceful one, as we have watched these horrendous — what [National Intelligence] Director [James] Clapper said was an apocalyptic situation, particularly in regard to those photos that have now come out. There’s 11,000 documented pictures of starvation, beating, torture and murder of men, women and children.” He also dismissed the notion that we don’t have options: “We have options. The question is whether we will use them or not. After 8,000 people were ethnically cleansed at Srebrenica, Bill Clinton acted. None of us want boots on the ground, but to not revisit other options, which are viable, then I think it is the only thing that we can do. This is shameful. This is shameful what’s going on.” He then got into a debate with CNN’s Candy Crowley, with her presenting the administration’s rationalizations for inaction. He batted each one down in succession:
CROWLEY: . . . [W]hat the U.S. fears is that you find a legitimate rebel group, you give them the weaponry, and somehow it ends up really in the hands of those who want to attack the U.S., and it’s just a bad idea to put more weaponry in a situation that is already chaotic.
MCCAIN: Isn’t it a terrible idea to do nothing? The fact is that we still have a viable opposition. Yes, these foreign fighters, 7,000 of them, foreign fighters are there. 26,000 jihadists. The black flag of al Qaeda is now flying over the city of Fallujah as the Iraq-Syria border becomes a transshipment for and base for al Qaeda. All of these things are far worse than they were three years ago. There are viable options. There is a viable free Syrian army. There are people, who — there’s groups that have joined together against these extremists. ISIS, radical al Qaeda extremists that are there. There is still viable opposition that we can help and assist. We can do that, and to do nothing, of course, we’ll see a further deterioration and a regionalization of the conflict. . . .
CROWLEY: You know that people are really reluctant to put the U.S. even at the edge of a war in the Middle East. The Middle East has not been a great place for the U.S. to try to help other countries.
MCCAIN: If the president of the United States went on national television and showed those pictures that are on my website that have been released, which are documented, of the horrific things that are being done, the American people at least would be, I think, more willing to help these people. No one is asking for military intervention. There are legitimate groups there. They have succeeded in some areas in fighting back against al Qaeda, by the way, who Bashar Assad is not fighting very hard against. There are viable alternatives inside Syria, but we also have to address the outside influences. . . .The whole region has turned into a regional conflict, and who is behind it? The Russians and the Iranians. While we sit down at the table with them on nuclear weapons, while we talk about the removal of chemical weapons, it has turned into a regional conflict, and the weapons flow in from Russia and the training from Iran and all of it is evolved into the situation that we’re in today. Do not believe we are out of options. There are many options if we have the courage to pursue them. . . . .
CROWLEY: Do you entertain the possibility that some harm could happen if we increase — more harm could happen if we increased it, helped with military aid?
MCCAIN: More harm could happen? More harm could happen? Candy, with all due respect that’s ludicrous. That’s ludicrous.
Indeed it is. But it is not just Crowley and the administration who’ve been saying such ludicrous things. A chunk of the GOP media and House and Senate members have been saying much the same thing. Will they also admit error — and reevaluate the moral and strategic failure of insisting we retrench around the world?