The past week brought with it a disturbing realisation – the POTUS is much dumber than we thought.
Putting aside domestic timidities and dismally failing resets, this latest episode has been filled with errors.
It goes without saying if he was ever going to intervene it should have been done earlier. One year ago he was warned by his advisors that waiting was not an option: it would lead to increased radicalisation of the opposition, as Sunni ‘allies’ fought their proxy civil religious war. Furthermore at the time there was clear momentum in favour of the rebellion.
Obama chose not to act, and events have played out largely as expected. Strike one.
At the time I assumed that settled the question and Syria was on her own. But he then went on about a ‘red line’.
Ambiguity can actually be useful in these situations. It’s generally best not to let your enemies know exactly where your limits are, or they’ll push right up against them, and then probe their boundaries – something paranoid dictators seem to have a sixth sense for. Strike two.
Now worst of all, it turns out Obama didn’t have the courage to back his words with his presidential authority, and has cast the outcome to the clowns and wolves of the Congress, leaving France in a somewhat awkward position. In an attempt to avoid full responsibility he has gambled the remainder of his presidency, and perhaps his legacy. If the Republicans do support him, there will certainly be a price, and it will be paid out of his domestic agenda. Strike Three.
Obama is right to name Assad responsible for the gruesome attacks. Assad is an authoritarian dictator, and has an iron grip on (the important parts) of his armed forces. He is accountable for what they do. The punditry is wrong to demand proof of a direct order, particularly since this smoking gun is highly unlikely to exist. Using your subordinates to do your dirty work is the oldest trick in the thug play-book, of which Mr Assad is well-versed.
Ironically this stuffing around has not just thrown the President of France, but the newly elected moderate Prime Minister of Iran, who was perhaps the best chance of peace with that country. If there are attacks, Rouhani will be pressured to respond violently, and if there are none, his country’s extremists will be emboldened by the weakness of the Great Satan.
There are good reasons why Western democracies leave swathes of foreign policy to elected leaders, rather than parliaments. There is nothing dignified about watching two parties squabble while minor members demand time in the spotlight, horses are traded and political points scored.
Putin and Assad have run intellectual rings around their American counterpart. Obama has many talents. Among them, speaking and community organising. But it appears current events are beyond his understanding, and certainly beyond his ability to manipulate for the greater good.