Well, now the president is frustrated! After three years, 136,000 or so dead, use of chemical weapons, creation of a jihadi haven, millions of refugees flooding through the area and a strategic boost for Iran and Russia, President Obama has decided he is miffed.
President Obama on Tuesday called Syria a “crumbling” state and acknowledged that the United Nations remains “far from achieving” its goal of returning stability and normalcy to the war-torn nation, but he again ruled out direct U.S. military intervention. … Nobody’s going to deny that there’s enormous frustration here,” Obama said. “Right now we don’t think that there is a military solution per se to the problem. But the situation’s fluid, and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue to solve this problem because it’s not just heartbreaking to see what’s happening to the Syrian people, it’s very dangerous for the region as a whole.”
This is the president at his worst. Self-pitying and self-absorbed, he wants to let us know how upset he is. He casts himself as a bystander in three years of inactivity punctuated by blunders (e.g. rubbing out his “red line” on the use of WMDs). And yet he still insists on the phony choice between direct military action and essentially doing nothing.
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams remarks that Obama “has absolutely no one to blame but himself. His inaction has produced a humanitarian and strategic disaster and a huge jihadi threat.” He continues, “When he chooses to feel ‘frustrated’ he is suggesting that events are beyond control and there’s nothing he can do. But at every juncture he has chosen inaction, and his policy of passivity has produced the current disaster.”
I’m curious to know when this frustration arose. It was just a few weeks ago that Obama told the country during the State of the Union address: “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.” Hmm. He didn’t sound frustrated as much as uninterested. And it is hard to imagine he expected things to turn out any differently; inactivity, he must know by now, is an invitation for chaos and violence.
You wonder if Obama is also frustrated with Iran, which continues to assert its right to enrichment, its determination not to dismantle its illicit nuclear program and its glee at having bested the Americans so as to announce Iran is “open for business.” Do we think he is frustrated at Iran’s continued sponsorship of terror and the uptick in executions? Hmm. All we hear is that we have to give diplomacy a “chance” and there is new “moderation” in the government. (Yet we can’t pass conditional sanctions or the moderates will be compelled to nix the talks.)
This is the president’s foreign policy in a nutshell. He thinks up reasons not to act even when vital national security and humanitarian interests coincide. He condemns those advocating more robust action as war-mongers or, at the very least, irresponsible. He employs “diplomacy,” but backed up by no real threat of force and signaling desperation to reach a deal. Our foes take his words as empty and proceed as they please while Russian President Vladimir Putin seizes the opportunity to promote his interests at the expense of the United States and our allies. In other words, failure is of his own making. As Abrams remarks, “Feeling ‘frustrated’ reveals that he remains unwilling to admit this even to himself.”
Ironically, the former junior senator from Illinois with the former senator from Delaware as vice president hired the former senator from Massachusetts to run the State Department and the former senator from Nebraska to head the Pentagon. Collectively and unsurprisingly, they all favor empty rhetoric over action. John Kerry, in particular, likes to scold our allies (Israel will only intensify the BDS movement!) rather than rebut our adversaries. Not every senator who became president (e.g. Richard Nixon, Harry Truman) was inert or non-strategic, but it is the case that senators largely talk (uninterrupted and for too long) and generally are responsible for nothing. In a body of 100, it is easy to escape responsibility. This syndrome is only one reason for caution when reviewing the 2016 crop of candidates on both sides of the aisle.
And that reminds me, is Hillary Clinton frustrated, too? The current situation flows directly from policies set in her tenure at the State Department. You wonder if she agreed (as she did so enthusiastically on Obamacare) or whether she had grave misgivings, misgivings apparently not so strong that she would leave the administration in protest over a policy ushering a humanitarian and geopolitical catastrophe.
And those in the House and Senate who insisted we had no interests in Syria and we shouldn’t use force to respond to actual use of WMDs are in precisely the same boat as the president. Their frustration now simply highlights their bad judgment when something could have been done about the horrific situation.