Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Anxiously Awaiting President's Speech Tonight?

Actually, THC is not.  While THC is not bewitched, he is bothered and bewildered, as well as dazed and confused and appalled watching this self-inflicted disaster for the U.S. unfold.  There are two separate issues at play here.  First, should the U.S. launch a strike against the Assad regime because of its alleged use of chemical weapons?  While THC is opposed to a strike, there are a couple of decent policy arguments in its favor.  The second is the manner in which the Administration has handled this issue which, by popular national and international acclaim, is inept.  THC knows the Middle East is confusing, complex and frustrating but this performance is mind-bogglingly bad.

We have the President setting a red line a year ago (and it was not an accident or one time event, as the State Department and White House Press Office reaffirmed the position) but apparently not giving a lot of thought as to what to do if his rhetoric did not seem to have the same magical impact it has domestically.  No political groundwork was laid for the eventuality of using force.

Then we have the President deciding to strike on his own (contra to his 2007 position) and then reversing himself but in a very confusing manner.  We had the Secretary of State testify at the Senate Hearing that what the Administration was proposing was "not war" (more like the "kinetic military action" in Libya) while the Secretary of Defense testified at the same hearing it was "war" and everyone in the Administration sent contradictory messages about the purpose and extent of the strikes prompting this very sad but very funny New Yorker piece:

Obama Promises Syria Strike Will Have No Objective

Posted by
WASHINGTON —Attempting to quell criticism of his proposal for a limited military mission in Syria, President Obama floated a more modest strategy today, saying that any U.S. action in Syria would have “no objective whatsoever.”

“Let me be clear,” he said in an interview on CNN. “Our goal will not be to effect régime change, or alter the balance of power in Syria, or bring the civil war there to an end. We will simply do something random there for one or two days and then leave.”

“I want to reassure our allies and the people of Syria that what we are about to undertake, if we undertake it at all, will have no purpose or goal,” he said. “This is consistent with U.S. foreign policy of the past.”
Then the President fled to Europe for the G20 Summit in St Petersburg.  While in Stockholm he gave his baffling "I didn't build that red line, you built that red line" statement and acted like he was an innocent bystander in this whole kerfuffle.  That was followed by his "Rambling Man" press conference at the G20 which I happened to hear in its entirety as I was driving around town.  In his inarticulate and hesitant verbal fumbling the President reminded me of President George W Bush at his best, when you would be desperately hoping he would stick a landing at the end of a sentence, although to be fair President Obama added his own unique contribution, whining, to the mix.  It was an embarrassing performance.

Yesterday we had Secretary Kerry's statement that any strike on Syria would be "unbelievably small" (he must have read the New Yorker piece); this about the regime he has likened to Hitler and a Munich Moment for the world.  Apparently, the Defense Department has designed really teeny, tiny missiles just for this purpose.  What could possibly go wrong?  Reminds me of the "life-size" Stonehenge stage set designed for Spinal Tap.  

It was in this same press conference that Kerry, apparently freelancing since his statement was immediately disavowed by the Administration, said, in response to a question about how Assad could avoid a strike:

“He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”

And now Putin and Assad have jumped on this and said, "yeah, sure!"  Checkmate.  Hard to go ahead with a strike when that offer is on the table.  And you can be sure that Putin and Assad put it on the table because it fits their strategy.  A lengthy process to negotiate an agreement and then to attempt to verify it buying the Assad regime plenty of time and insulating it from an American strike.  For Putin, it bolsters his position in Syria and in the Middle East and every diplomat in the world knows he got the best of Obama. .And given how hard it is to verify (does anyone remember the 12 years of attempting to verify Saddam Hussein's compliance with the 1991 ceasefire agreement?) who knows what will really happen. By the way, let's not forget that the brain trust here, Kerry, Clinton and Biden, all supported the Iraq war resolution (although in another bizarre part of this current episode, on Sept 5, 2013 Kerry stated he opposed the Iraq war, which is flat-out wrong - he didn't just vote for the resolution, he spoke frequently about the need to oust Saddam Hussein; maybe he just forgot).

What is true, is that no matter how the President spins this domestically, U.S. credibility has suffered a big blow around the world and worst of all, it was completely avoidable if the President had never made his statement.  In soccer this is referred to as an "own goal".

So, I have no clue what the President will say tonight (and please read 15 Questions About the Increasingly Crazy Syria Debate).  A couple of days ago I thought he would at least be calling the United Nations a useless organization which should be ignored by America (a sentiment with which I would strongly agree) but now with the prospect of a UN sponsored agreement he will probably no longer do so.

At least the past couple of weeks have cleared one thing up.  I never quite understood "The Global Test" that then-senator Kerry spoke about during the 2004 campaign.  Now I do understand.  America fails The Global Test if it goes to war with 21 allies, not including France, but does pass The Global Test if it goes to war (or kinetic military action) with only one ally, but it is France.  By the way, does this mean that French President Francoise Hollande is Barack Obama's poodle?
(President Hollande)Given the unusual alignment of opponents and supporters of the Administration we'll let the Second City Network have the last word:

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