The NY Times frontpages the angst of senior Administration advisors who fret that our President wandered off script when he spoke of Syria, chemical weapons and "red lines" last summer:
Off-the-Cuff Obama Line Put U.S. in Bind on Syria
This is Obama's 'smart diplomacy in action:
WASHINGTON — Confronted with evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, President Obama now finds himself in a geopolitical box, his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.
The origins of this dilemma can be traced in large part to a weekend last August, when alarming intelligence reports suggested the besieged Syrian government might be preparing to use chemical weapons. After months of keeping a distance from the conflict, Mr. Obama felt he had to become more directly engaged.
In a frenetic series of meetings, the White House devised a 48-hour plan to deter President Bashar al-Assad of Syria by using intermediaries like Russia and Iran to send a message that one official summarized as, “Are you crazy?” But when Mr. Obama emerged to issue the public version of the warning, he went further than many aides realized he would.
Moving or using large quantities of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and “change my calculus,” the president declared in response to a question at a news conference, to the surprise of some of the advisers who had attended the weekend meetings and wondered where the “red line” came from. With such an evocative phrase, the president had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back.
“The idea was to put a chill into the Assad regime without actually trapping the president into any predetermined action,” said one senior official, who, like others, discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity. But “what the president said in August was unscripted,” another official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the “nuance got completely dropped.”
Obama lost the nuance? The deepest thinker and shiniest star on the Presidential Christmas tree? C'mon, he knows more than his advisors. They should be listening to him, and clearly they have missed the nuance.
It's interesting, not to say unnerving, that today (if not back when he said it) the Times can find senior officials distancing themselves from the president. Who wants to board a ship the rats are abandoning?
And how the mighty have fallen - my goodness, back in the day Matt Yglesias wrote an article praising Obama's bold, creative Foreign Policy by Gaffe:
The Accidental Foreign Policy
Matt was not writing for the Onion or even the Daily Currant at the time. Any day now!
In any case, Obama's distinctive voice, coupled with his self-infatuation with it, has led to other bold foreign policy strokes. Late last summer (just a few weeks after his Syrian belly flop) Obama decided that, law and practice notwithstanding, Egypt was no longer an ally. And in 2008 did Candidate Obama really favor an undivided Jerusalem. Move on.
Soon enough the world's foreign ministers will ask with one voice - Is that the President of the United States speaking, or did someone switch to the Comedy Channel?
THE BUCK STOPS WHERE? Blaming TOTUS. Hmm, any chance Barack will explain that Sasha and Malia misplaced his briefing book?
APPROACHING THE LIMIT: I love this from Obama's improv skit last August:
...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. That would change my equation.
Hands up if you think Obama actually took calculus in high school or college. I don't see any hands...
But yes, it sounds so much tonier than "calculations", so Big Props to the First Wordsmith.
THE 'NAYS' HAVE IT: Obama said this at Hudson Valley Community College:
I was just talking to the Mayor of Troy, who was -- we were in a room, and he was saying how he had studied calculus in the room where we were taking a picture. And I had to inform him I didn’t take calculus. (Laughter.) But he was testimony, he was an example of what you can do because of an institution like this.
I guess the Syrians have figured that out.
SUNDAY REVIEW: The Times gives guest space to Daniel Byman, "a professor in the security studies program at Georgetown and the research director at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Mideast Policy". He says this about red lines:
The administration’s ultimatum now seems like cheap talk, and it illustrates the risks of carelessly drawing red lines and issuing highly public threats that won’t be enforced.
So far, at least, the Obama administration has put off both consequences and accountability and simply pushed for further investigation. Meanwhile, Mr. Assad has not blinked, and the president’s political opponents, like Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, argue that Iran and North Korea will draw the wrong lessons if the president lets Mr. Assad call his bluff.
Don't call his bluff.