Syria: No principle, no policy, no progress

Reuters

US President Obama (rear C) meets with bipartisan Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington to discuss a military response to Syria, September 3, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Obama, as so many have said, needs a strategy in Syria, not just a missile strike.

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  • “I think doing nothing will make me look bad” is neither a call to arms nor the clarion call of leadership.

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  • When policy and principle don’t animate decision-making, it becomes impossible to explain or predict what a leader will do.

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When policy and principle don’t animate decision-making, it becomes impossible to explain or predict what a leader will do. That is the world that Barack Obama has fashioned, and it’s a bloody nightmare.

Why Libya and not Syria?
Why Syria and not Benghazi?
Why go to Congress on Syria but not Libya?
Why the red line now and not after the first use of chemical weapons by Assad in April?
Why arm the rebels now but not two years ago before al Qaeda was on the scene?

Short answer: No one has any idea. Syria matters more than Libya; dying by CW is no less awful than dying from torture. The War Powers Clause doesn’t require you go to Congress before hostilities. The rebels are now less cohesive and al Qaeda groups are making inroads.

How will Congress vote? My guess is, guns to their heads, a narrow authorizing resolution passes. But don’t count on Barack Obama to help sell this to the American people. In his Saturday afternoon chat on CW and his late-night PBS interview on arming the rebels, he’s made clear this isn’t a policy he’ll defend in prime time. And if the president doesn’t care enough to sell this to the people he represents on the world stage, why should they go for it? In short, they won’t. It’s not that the facts aren’t clear, nor that the American people are not the most compassionate in the world. Nor is it that US troops will be in harm’s way, because we know they won’t be. It isn’t that Americans are — forgive the shibboleth — war weary. It’s not even sequestration. It’s that after being told for six years that the Middle East doesn’t matter, that these aren’t our fights, and that wars end on schedule, the American people are going to need to hear and see from the Commander in Chief why this is our moment to reengage. Unfortunately for our nation and for the people of Syria, “I think doing nothing will make me look bad” is neither a call to arms nor the clarion call of leadership.

Obama, as so many have said, needs a strategy in Syria, not just a missile strike. So far, no strategy is evident, no leadership is forthcoming. Ultimately, who will pay the price for this fecklessness? We will, of course. But by that time, Barack Obama will be long gone.

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About the Author

 

Danielle
Pletka

  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.


    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


     


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.


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    Email: dpletka@aei.org
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