Guy W. Farmer: President is leading from behind on Syria
September 8, 2013
After beating the Syria war drums for weeks, culminating with Secretary of State John Kerry's impassioned plea for a military strike against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on Aug. 30, President Obama threw Kerry under the bus the next day by reversing course and sending the hot-button issue to Congress, which is on summer break until tomorrow.
It was an astonishing policy reversal, one that made the president look weak and vacillating and sent mixed signals to friends and enemies alike. This is no way to make life-or-death decisions on important foreign-policy and/or national security issues, but the president's change of heart — or whatever it was — is consistent with his hesitant decisions on previous-foreign policy/national security issues. It looks like amateur night in Washington, D.C.
Obama's confusion is understandable, however, because he's getting advice from "experts" such as Kerry, who threw his medals away after he came back from Vietnam, and new National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who gave us a phony explanation for last September's Benghazi fiasco, which killed our ambassador to Libya and three of his embassy colleagues. We're still awaiting the truth about what really happened there.
So now we'll return to square one as Congress debates launching a limited military strike against Assad for attacking his own people with chemical weapons. Many months ago, Obama said the use of poison gas would be a "red line" that would result in U.S. military action.
That was then and this is now, as Obama and politicians of all political stripes gear up for next year's mid-term elections. Do I think politics is driving the president's decisions on national security issues? You bet!
Presidents are most effective on these kinds of issues when they appear somewhat unpredictable and when they don't tell everyone what they're going to do, and what they're not going to do. But that's exactly what Obama has done on Afghanistan and Syria while the military is being downsized because of the so-called budgetary "sequester." Therefore, our enemies know precisely when we're pulling out of Afghanistan, and they know that our military strike against Syria, if and when it occurs, will be carefully calibrated and limited in scope. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, said U.S. forces are "degraded and unready" for action, which isn't reassuring.
Congressmen of both parties are asking the right questions: What military objectives would be accomplished? Wouldn't missile strikes lead to a wider war in the volatile Middle East?
The answers to both of those questions are unclear; therefore, I oppose a military strike at this time. As someone who opposed the Iraq War before it started, I would hate to see us get involved in yet another civil war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East. Perhaps another foreign-policy "expert," Sarah Palin, was right when she said, "Let Allah sort it out." That's a cynical observation, but it makes sense.
So will Congress approve limited Cruise missile strikes against Assad's murderous regime in Syria? I think the chances for congressional approval are about 50-50. The Democrat-dominated Senate will probably rubber-stamp Obama's plan, while there will be a furious debate in the Republican-controlled House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and most of his fellow Democrats will back the president, while a majority of House Republicans will oppose the plan. I hope Congress votes it down.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.