President Has Few Options In Syria

I keep thinking about what it would be like to be Barack Obama. Of course, the President is a very smart man. Every day he meets with his experts — the military people, the foreign policy people, the polling people. If he wasn’t as smart as he is, he’d be more like the George W. Bush model, relying on people like Dick Cheney to call the shots. Last Tuesday, he spoke to the nation in words that were both simple and eloquent. He addressed all the questions that we the people have been asking. Are we the world’s policeman? No, but how can we stand by and watch children choking to death? He seems to have been saying that it is up to us to fix things. Not the people of Syria, not the United Nations, the United States.  

Obama was against the war in Iraq. He said that he will not put boots on the ground. He welcomed the new Putin proposal but he insisted that we verify that the Syrians have truly destroyed their chemical stockpile. He reminded us that the Syrians have lied time and again and acknowledged that he knows things about international politics that we don’t know.

Why are the Russians are so intent on making this offer? Could it be that the Syrians are the last of their client states in the Mideast? Could it be that Putin, the newest Russian Czar, believes that if Assad loses, his worst fears may be realized and Syria may start exporting the Assad chemicals to some of Putin’s worst enemies?

I think Obama is either one of the brightest or one of the luckiest politicians in the country.  When he said he was drawing a line in the sand, he was making a threat.  The one thing we know is that when you make a threat, you had better be prepared to back that threat up with action. But it just wasn’t to be. The American people didn’t want it. Their Congresspersons didn’t want it, either. The Republicans were all over the place. Democratic Congressman Richard Neal told me that when Bush had his wars, these same Republican Congressmen were nowhere to be found. Now they insisted on Obama coming to Congress. Chris Gibson, the Republican Congressman from nearby New York State and an ex-Army commander himself has consistently advised against American military adventurism. It turns out that the American people have just had enough of war. They know full well that we were lied to about so-called “weapons of mass destruction” in order to get us into the Iraq war where the American body count was unconscionable.  Then came Afghanistan. Frankly I was getting depressed that the American people seemed to be saying, “Anything you do is okay with us.”

Now, the American people have spoken. They want out of the war economy, they want out of the slaughter of young American men and women. They don’t want to get involved in the Shiite-Sunni civil wars. The English apparently share the same philosophy.  Their Parliament said no.


That’s where Obama’s luck (or brilliance) comes in. John Kerry made an off-the-cuff remark about Assad being willing to destroy his chemical weapons and in what seemed like a New York minute, Putin floated the same idea.  All of a sudden, the United Nations is in play. Obama said that had he not drawn that line in the sand and threatened to hit Assad, this new Kerry-Putin solution would never have happened. Does anyone really think that Obama and Putin haven’t been back-channeling it? Both men came out looking like heroes. But more than the two politicians, my optimism is based on the fact that the people finally stood up and said no.

 Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/14/13

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