Monday, September 2, 2013

Obama's Marx Brothers doctrine on Syria's use of chemical weapons: Hello, I must be going.

To keep the movie metaphor going, just when you thought it might be safe to applaud Obama for finally making a decision on something based on principle and conviction and following through on something he promised, he proves again he just can't do it.

In an astounding feat of high wire double talk, in the space of 30 seconds Obama  announced he had made a decision on a military strike against Syria as punishment for their use of chemical weapons, and then, breaking his own land speed record for reversing himself, announced his decision was going to be delayed so he can go to the congress and ask for an  authorization to act on his convictions and principles that historical precedent shows he doesn't need. Then he  said whatever the result of congress' vote, its not binding and he can do what he wants anyway. The only thing missing was Obama holding Groucho's cigar and wagging his eyebrows.

Obama made a convincing moral argument to punish Assad for his  slaughter of civilians using chemical weapons, an act banned by the world and called a crime against humanity.  He said he made his decision based on morality, principles and conviction and the risks of letting such actions go unpunished. He said he would act even if the United States had to act alone.  Then before you could say "Obama" and the echo of his words vanished, he said before he would act he was going to ask congress for authorization to tell him it's okay for him to act on his principles and convictions and, by the way, there's really no rush, they can do it  anytime, even when they get back from vacation because he can launch the strikes anytime -- a week from now, a month from now, even six months from now.

All of which must have seemed like Obama had launched a chemical attack of his own,  a carbon monoxide hot air attack on the Syrian people and the victims of Assad's attack.

Obama's "Hello I must be going"  Marx Brothers announcement was greeted with the kind of response that Groucho would have appreciated--  laughter. Obama was laughed at immediately and laughed at by -- guess who? --  the foreign minister of Syria who also mocked him as being weak , muddled and confused. Which of course he was.  The Assad regime called it a "historic American retreat", and accused Obama of "hesitation and confusion".

When you have the foreign minister of a country who just slaughtered 1400 civilians with chemical weapons and against whom you've threatened a punishing missile attack mocking you, laughing at you,  calling you confused, hesitant and weak,you're in big trouble. More so because unfortunately the Syrian foreign minister had a point.

It was Obama trying to take the moral high ground then watching as it completely gave way right under his feet and turn to quick sand.

The announcement Obama made in the Rose Garden became so preposterous that the CBS Evening News led its broadcast with the words, " even though the military strike promised by president Obama is off -- at least for now ....".

Think about that. Obama decided to make an announcement in the Rose Garden, covered live by most TV networks that he decided he was going to launch a missile strike against Syria and go it alone if need be because it was the right thing to do, a moral imperative, and then said without skipping a beat that he wasn't going to do it just yet because first he wanted to get an authorization from congress about this urgent matter. As soon as they got back from vacation.

Not exactly Teddy Roosevelt. But a lot like Groucho Marx. With Joe Biden playing his sidekick George Feneman.

John Kerry also undid all the adulation and praise he had received for his passionate, morally driven case for the U.S. punishing Assad with missile strikes and going alone if need be by calling Obama's non-decision decision "courageous". It was not courageous. It was politics as usual from Obama, doing what he's always done, whether on healthcare and the public option, closing Gitmo or holding Wall Street bankers  accountable for the financial crisis. He promised, he talked, he did nothing.  He spoke loudly but didn't have any stick. 

The reaction of the Syrian rebels to Obama's announcement, the only  reaction that actually matters, was" anger and disappointment".  Translation: thanks for nothing.

Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King said emphatically after the announcement that Obama didn't need congressional authorization to launch a missile strike. Bill Clinton didn't ask for authorization to launch a missile strike against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.  Reagan never asked for congressional authorization to send troops to Grenada. There is ample precedent of presidents taking limited military action without asking for congressional approval..The only authorization Clinton asked for from congress on Kosovo was funding. And he got it.

Obama,in defending his decision to wait for a vote by congress,  tried to make the point that the missile strikes are not "time sensitive", that they will be just as effective a week from now or a month from now or six months from now. Maybe so if he was planning on hitting a vacant lot. But the Syrian military is already moving assets, weapons and munitions and hiding them,also  taking computers and other vital operational intelligence out of command and control centers making preparations for a U.S. missile strike.There is also talk they are moving civilians to military installations to use as human shields.

But the targets for a missile strike intended as punishment for using chemical weapons doesn't have to be only military. It's not that complicated. One target should be Assad's palace reducing it  to rubble and then, strikes on all of his other residences making it personal.  That would also  lift the spirits of the Syrian victims of his attack and give them a real sense of personal revenge. The second target should be all of Assad's air fields, turning their runways to rubble and destroying as many of his planes on the ground as possible. The runways can be repaired but it would take weeks and would ground his air force for the duration. Those strikes would send the intended message -- make Assad suffer personally and degrade even for a short time his military ability and air power and let him know that if he uses chemical weapons again there will be a bigger price and next time.

A decisive president, something Obama has never been, would have launched the strikes first and had the debate later. But this is Obama,  the president who, in 2008,  after the Republicans suffered the worst defeat of any political party in 60 years, on healthcare reform, the most contentious issue since civil rights and something Republicans were dead set against, said " I want Republican ideas". The result was a year of unneccesary political bloodletting over the public option,senseless townhall meetings, nothing getting done and in the end Obama capitulated even though he didnt have to and dropped the public option in a capitulation to the health insurance lobby.

The New York Times reported that many in Syria were "shocked" by Obama's delaying the missile strikes with some feeling he is using a congressional vote as an excuse to back away and others thinking he still launch an attack. But Obama's announcement confused everyone on the rebel and civilian side in Syria.

On the Sunday talk shows John Kerry said, "this is now squarely in the hands of congress, to do the right thing".   Which shows that courageously Obama passed the buck.  Some people applaud him for going to congress and some think its an excuse not to back up what he said about crossing the red line. Either way congress should figure out a way to throw the buck right back. And pass a resolution stating that he doesn't need a resolution, it's all on him. And tell Obama Groucho sent them.









James Ala said...

My guess is that BHO had a come to Jesus moment right after Cameron got his butt handed to him by the UK Parliament. Without his fast friend beside him, Obama had to re-think his approach. If were not for John Bull sitting on the sidelines and the resultant requirement for Obama to create Plan B out of whole cloth, the bombs and missiles would be crashing into Syria right now. Still, kinda stupid for Obama not to have a Plan B and Plans C,D,and E standing by.

Marc Rubin said...

"My guess is that BHO had a come to Jesus moment right after Cameron got his butt handed to him by the UK Parliament"

Im sure youre right about that. As for Obama not having a plan B,C or D, just be thankful he has a plan A.

Anonymous said...

I oppose us going into any country unless we have skin in the game. Assad may be a dictator, but he has run a sectarian country, kept the radical Muslims out, didn't bother his neighbors, and until someone stirred the pot, a country with a decent economy. The Syrian situation parallels what happened in Iraq. Saddam was a dictator, he ran a tight ship, the country was sectarian, had a good economy, and he kept Iran in check. ( with our governments help ) The idiot Bush and henchmen played the W.M.D. song,conned the congress, lied to the voters, spent over half a trillion dollars, killed a couple of hundred thousand Iraqi civilians, and turned a prosperous Iraq into a killing zone for radical Muslims. --- not to mention the four thousand odd U.S. troops killed, and upwards of eighty thousand wounded.

Marc Rubin said...

"The idiot Bush and henchmen played the W.M.D. song,conned the congress, lied to the voters, spent over half a trillion dollars, killed a couple of hundred thousand Iraqi civilians, and turned a prosperous Iraq into a killing zone for radical Muslims".

You can blame Obama directly for that war coming back to haunt him. When Obama first took office John Conyers wanted to hold congressional hearings into Iraq and the Bush administration and what happened. Obama's response? "I do not think its useful to litigate how we got into that war". Actually there couldnt have been anything MORE useful than to hold open hearings on how we got into that war but Obama is so empty and only interested in what is good for him politically, he quashed it. Compare that to how Republicans are dealing with Benghazi.

Anonymous said...

"You can blame Obama directly for that war coming back to haunt him."

Not much of an argument. But at least some of the worlds players are seeing that the US bombing Syria isn't the way to go.

Marc Rubin said...

"Not much of an argument. But at least some of the worlds players are seeing that the US bombing Syria isn't the way to go."

I completely disagree. I felt the missile strikes were the way to go from day one and that has proved to be correct. The deal, if its real, with Syria agreeing to give up its chemical weapons to UN inspectors to be destroyed never would have happened had it not been for the threat of the missile strike so those who thought it was a mistake have already been proven wrong. For those who say they dont care about what happened in Syria, dont care about the use of chemical weapons or the people who were killed, and that its terrible and a war crime but its none of our business, I wont say its not a valid position, just that I dont agree with it.