Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Syria fade: Obama’s just not that into being commander in chief.

I was transfixed two weeks ago by John Kerry’s forceful reaction to Syrian gangster-president Bashar al-Assad’s gassing of women and children. With his secretary of state speaking so strongly, the president himself surely was planning meaningful retaliation, or so I hoped.

But then came Obama’s decision to heave the Syria grenade into Congress’ lap. Obama would let Congress take the hit for firing missiles into Syria. Obama had punted.

Well, passing the buck didn’t work out so well either. As it became increasingly clear that Congress would toss the Syria grenade back by rejecting Obama’s recommendation, in the process handing the president a prestige-deflating defeat, things looked bleak for the White House.

But at the 11th hour, Russian president Vladimir Putin offered to talk Assad into giving up his chemical weapons. Surprised and happy, Obama called for a “postponed” Congressional vote. “Peace in our time,” as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said at Munich in 1938, admittedly under much more serious circumstances.

Obama is a known quantity by now. He is a committed progressive, shaped by his professors shaped by the 1960s--we fought the wrong war! Why were we in Vietnam when the establishment was suppressing blacks and women at home? Obama is a child of affirmative action, raised by white grandparents in multi-racial Hawaii, a state with few African Americans; young, smart, and privileged enough to see how race worked for, not against, him, determined to help minorities and women supplant America’s white male power structure, to take down the America of Reagan Democrats, evangelicals, and the “new” South.

The old establishment used national security to hold the power structure together --“politics stops at the water’s edge.” Obama understood this, how the military industrial complex and the cold war diverted resources away from building economic justice at home. Enemies abroad? In Vietnam, in the Soviet Union, in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, in Panama, in Iraq, in Iran, in Cuba, in Venezuela--these so-called “enemies” were creatures of the establishment, exaggerated threats used to keep resources away from America’s truly disadvantaged.

As Obama moved to the White House, he recognized that America’s first president of color would have a unique opportunity to take the country past old, artificial “enemies” labels, giving it paths to true peace. When that failed to work out, Obama lost interest in foreign policy beyond turning off his predecessor’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He capitalized on one national security event--the 2011 CIA-led effort to kill Osama bin Laden.

Heading into the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions, the Gallup Poll had Mitt Romney ahead of Barack Obama by 47% to 45%. Gallup reported that in 12 of 15 previous presidential elections, the pre-convention poll leader won the election.

How much did these facts have to do with Obama’s saying more or less out of the blue on August 20, 2012, a week before the GOP convention:
We have been very clear to the Assad regime. . . a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.
Commenting on Obama’s “impromptu” remarks at the time, the Washington Post noted they “represented his strongest language to date on how the United States might respond to contain Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.”

strongest language to date.”  Wasn’t Obama reminding the country that the leader who killed bin Laden was cautious but still tough enough for the job, deserving to lead the polls? Only one thing wrong; in his statement, the president had pledged to act.

Thus Obama’s out-of-place 2012 words have brought us to our current curious reality: the president speaks out against Assad’s atrocity, threatens destruction, but in the end, takes no action. His heart remains fixed on peace abroad, war at home.

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