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Jewish World Review
Sept. 11, 2013 / 7 Tishrei, 5774
In Syria debate, will Obama defeat himself?
Russian diplomats, of all people, may have helped devise a constructive way to avert a U.S. military strike on Syria and thereby end a Hamlet-like debate President Barack Obama has been having with himself. At issue: how to respond to that Middle East country's use of chemical weapons to kill more than 1,400 people.
At first, it seemed Obama might do nothing or next to nothing, just issue a warning "shot across the bow," though then, as some said that's destruction to no avail, he appeared to agree we needed shock and awe enough to give the rebels a boost. That, too, could be a bad idea, though he had made some military reaction all but imperative last year when he drew a "red line." He then said the use of such weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad would not be tolerated.
But wait. Obama did not set a red line, he later said, clearly aggravated at the common-sense interpretation of others. The world and Congress did it in a treaty signed by major nations and his credibility was therefore not at stake in whatever happened, he told us. That statement alone cost him credibility.
My own guess is that Obama had naively figured his red-line threat would in and of itself be enough to make Assad halfway human on this front, which is ridiculous considering that Assad has killed tens of thousands just as viciously through nonchemical means. When his ploy failed, Obama had to deal with the fact that he had also drawn a red line on Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Let this pass and Iran might suppose it, too, could get away with its evil druthers.
At first, Obama was going to strike without congressional approval. As an internationalist, he was more interested in the rest of the world. Trouble was, he faced a veto in the United Nations, and parliamentarians in Britain said "no thanks" to their country's support. So he decided to seek his own country's support, after all. Then he made it known that if Congress would not go along, he still had the constitutional right to proceed, which means he wasn't actually seeking congressional approval as a final determinant of what might be done.
The indecisiveness, the hesitancy mixed with chest thumping, the amateurism -- all this has shown no surcease, including the way top officials did Edward Snowden imitations in leaking details of possible military actions of a kind usually kept secret. It was public relations gone askew, and more went askew when the president traveled to a summit of leading nations in Russia. He tried to drum up backing, got some, but then watched as the neo-Stalinist Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, took the opposite stance and got backing, too.
Meanwhile, tough questions persisted. As awful as Assad is, are the rebels any better? Al-Qaida members are among Islamic jihadists leading the anti-Assad fight, they are far more an enemy than Assad has ever been and will not stop a second in using Syria as a tool for infidel undoing. We who count as infidels could see how these terrorists operated when we read front-page news stories about the brutal murder of seven captured Syrian soldiers and recalled 9/11.
If we bomb, we kill innocent people to no sure avail and maybe as prelude to a host of bad outcomes. If we do not, Iran and others may assume our warnings count for nothing. Our fumbling president has lately been turning to what he does best, the equivalent of political campaigning in TV appearances. The vote in Congress seemed lost when, all of a sudden, Russia is getting Syria to say it will turn over all its chemical weapons. Syria may be lying, but maybe not.
Obama seems intrigued, and with any luck some of the worst possibilities may be averted as his self-debate ends.
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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
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