I find it hard to believe that we can find anyone who wants to be President of the United States even if you do get a jet and a cool code name like POTUS. The dialogue around the issue of what the President should do about Syria will give you whiplash if you really listen. First we have Assad crossing Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons against his own people (observers believe). Is he deliberately goading America? We have used chemical weapons against our foes in war, but, so far, not against our own people. Using chemical weapons, we have come to believe, is abhorrent and we find that they should be banned on moral grounds. However if other countries have such weapons we feel we must keep some also.
So as soon as Assad crossed that red line reporters began interviewing persons who harangued Obama to do something to punctuate our disapproval of Assad’s behavior. They are the hawks. They believe America must fight on the side of the downtrodden especially if they are striving to be free and that we must do this every time authoritarian monsters refuse their people justice. Some of the hawks doing the verbal prodding are the usual hawks like John McCain, but this time we also have Richard Engel, who we respect, urging America to get involved in Syria.
So President Obama announced that he will bomb certain key military targets in Syria and he will do it soon. He is looking for some support from other nations. It looks like there will be a few takers but not the UN, because Syria has big allies there. Perhaps Obama is remembering World War I where big nations allied to a small nation started a huge war over a small incident. Perhaps bombing a smallish country which has giant allies, who are not our friends, makes Obama a bit nervous, as it should.
No matter, as soon as the President announced what he planned to do the criticisms came in from the other side. They complained that it is not enough. They said it will either have no effect, or it will drag us into a new Middle Eastern war. They said that it is a declaration of war and requires the approval of Congress. Is it a trap to furnish the GOP with grounds for the much heralded impeachment of Obama if he acts without consulting Congress? Whatever, it sounds like the fallout will be far more negative than positive and yet if Obama doesn’t back up that red line statement the fallout may also be negative, because then Obama will appear weak, they say (feckless is the new preferred insult and applies equally, it seems, to both Obama and to members of Congress).
Our actions in war no longer have the unified support we experienced prior to Vietnam and which we have never really experienced since the end of World War II. A President must walk his own line and ignore the siren calls from both sides of the aisle, but it must feel like arrows to the soul, especially when the right thing to do is not absolutely certain or clearly apparent. At least if we decided to back the path our President chooses, those actions would have the weight of America behind them, but this way we just look like a bunch of cats in a canvas bag clawing each other. I don’t want America to lose the weight it carries in the world of nations. I hope Obama has a good idea of what decision to make, because I don’t have a clue. This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com