Sure, Obama may have ad-libbed his way to a red line and a diplomatic crise with his talk of red lines in Syria. But we elected and re-elected a guy with a penchant for writing checks with his mouth that our nation can't cash. Indeed, cheerleaders like Matt Yglesias applauded Obama's "foreign policy by gaffe" back when the topic was Iran and meeting leaders without pre-conditions. subsequent Obama improvs on AIPAC and Egypt maybe didn't go so well.
Nontheless... although we certainly hope that Obama, Kerry et al are capable of learning from past mistakes sub-optimal articulations, and although we hope they enjoy a meaningful self-awareness interlude as they contemplate their adoption of Bush-Cheney non-multilateralist foreign policy as a complement to their adoption of the Bush-Cheney surveillance state, there is still the problem of what the US should do next in Syria.
Non-President John McCain had this to say:
Mr. Obama came under criticism from the other side as Senator John McCain, his Republican opponent in 2008 and a longtime advocate of stronger action in Syria, said the president’s apparent plans were still too weak. “The president apparently wants to have a kind of cosmetic strike, launch a few missiles and then say, ‘Well, we responded,'” Mr. McCain said on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” on Friday night. “This is the same president that, two years ago, said Bashar Assad had to go. It’s also the president that said that there would be a red line if they used chemical weapons. Maybe that red line was written in disappearing ink.”
Put him down as a hawk (surprise!), and let's wait for his improbable announcement that we are all Syrians now.
The Times rememberss that it is reflexively anti-war and runs a good article on the many problems of Obama's expected minimalist response:
Experts Fear That U.S. Plan to Strike Syria Overlooks Risks
BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Obama says he is considering a “limited, narrow” military strike against Syria — an aim that many Middle East experts fear overlooks the potential to worsen the violence in Syria and intensify a fight for regional influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Supporters of the president’s proposal contend that a limited punitive strike can be carried out without inflaming an already volatile situation. But a number of diplomats and other experts say it fails to adequately plan for a range of unintended consequences, from a surge in anti-Americanism that could bolster Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to a wider regional conflict that could drag in other countries, including Israel and Turkey.
I thought the repeal of the Law of Unintended Consequences was part of the ObamaCare bill. My bad...
In outlining its tentative plans, the Obama administration has left many questions unanswered. Diplomats familiar with Mr. Assad say there is no way to know how he would respond, and they question what the United States would do if he chose to order a chemical strike or other major retaliation against civilians.
That would leave the United States to choose between a loss of credibility and a more expansive — and unpopular — conflict, they said. “So he continues on in defiance — maybe he even launches another chemical attack to put a stick in our eye — and then what?” Mr. Crocker said. “Because once you start down this road, it’s pretty hard to get off it and maintain political credibility.”
Obama already ceded the initiative to Assad a year ago with his talk of a red line.
For the United States, the challenge is to deliver the intended message to Mr. Assad without opening the door to a takeover by rebels linked to Al Qaeda, the collapse of state institutions, or a major escalation by Syria’s allies. Skeptics doubt that the United States — or anyone else — has the information to calibrate the attack that precisely.
That is partly because the United States is preparing to inject itself into a conflict that is no longer just about Syria, but has become a volatile regional morass that pits Iran and Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon, against Qaeda affiliates backed by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf benefactors.
For anyone having trouble lying awake nights with worry David Brooks has more on how the Islam versus The World has morphed into Islam versus Islam.
A way to redirect Sunni-Shiite hostility is to have them unite against a common foe. That role has been filled by Israel and the US in the past, as the Times notes:
Anger over American involvement could also undo one of the major benefits to American interests from the Arab uprisings by restoring the alliance against Israel that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah had with the Sunni Palestinian group Hamas. The conflict in Syria has sorely tested that alliance, with Hamas supporting the Sunni-led Syrian rebellion.
I will Boldly Assert that It's Complicated. The Times editors deliver a classic example of the sort of pitiable hand-wringing these complexities induce:
Absent on Syria
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
As President Obama moves toward unilateral military action in response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed more than 1,400 people, he is doing so without legal justification and without the backing of two key institutions, Congress and the United Nations Security Council. Both have abdicated their roles in dealing with this crisis.
Congress hasn't acted? No kidding. Yet the Democrats, putatively led by Barack Obama, control the Senate.
And I am not sure at all that Congressional involvement will go any better for Obama than it did for David cameron in the UK. Republicans are not feeling any pressure to bomb Syria or back Obama. Do the Times editors remember Kosovo?