WASHINGTON, August 30, 2013 — President Obama’s hopes to bring the British into an anti-Syria coalition were smashed yesterday. Britain’s parliament voted no on a military strike, a strong rebuke to Prime Minister David Cameron, and a slap in the face to Obama.
Republicans and Democrats alike want Obama to consult with Congress before launching a strike against the forces of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. Fifty-four Democrats sent Obama a letter urging him to “seek an affirmative action of Congress” before committing U.S. forces to an attack. House Speaker John Boehner sent a letter requesting a “clear, unambiguous explanation” of the benefits a strike would bring to U.S. interests.
Administration officials have stressed that Obama will decide on his own whether to launch a strike. British and U.N. support are unnecessary. “President Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “We make our own decisions and our own timeline,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Another Tomahawk-laden destroyer has been moved into the Mediterranean, and administration officials insist that they have both the evidence and the legal justification to launch a strike.
It seems that all they lack are credibility and support.
Through one bungle after another, the Obama Administration has maneuvered itself into a box. If Obama launches an attack on Syria, he will bring America under widespread condemnation and risk a broader war. If he launches the limited cruise missile attack that he has suggested, he will look impotent at the same time he risks war. And if he does nothing at all, he will look impotent for backing down on his threat over “red line” of chemical weapon use and trash what little credibility he has left in the Middle East.
Obama has managed a feat in the Middle east that was all but unimaginable five years ago: He’s even less popular in the region than President George W. Bush was at the end of his presidency.
The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project finds that support for the United States is lower now in Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan than it was in 2008. Approval for Obama’s policies was only 15 percent in Muslim countries last spring; what that rate would be now in Egypt and Syria is anyone’s guess, but a safe guess would be “lower.”
Obama’s botched efforts in the Middle East serve to remind us that there’s no situation so bad that dedicated ineptitude can’t make it worse. His administration team has done just that. American foreign policy goals in the region are now completely unclear.
Obama’s dithering in Egypt has antagonized everyone there, has been interpreted as support of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, and has pushed Egypt directly into Russia’s embrace. No one knows whether our goal in Egypt is stability or democracy. We appear to back Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is backed also by Hamas, which in turn is supported by Iran, but our support appears completely irrelevant. Egypt’s new leaders have concluded they can safely ignore us.
The fiasco in Syria is worse. Is our goal there regime change? Is the goal still regime change even if that puts jihadists in charge? The Syrian rebels are supported by al-Qaeda and Hamas, and opposed by Iran, which with Russia supports Assad. Where exactly in all this do our interests lie? Are we really on the side of al-Qaeda?
Do we intend to back the monarchy in Bahrain, no matter how repressive it grows, in order to keep the base that houses our Fifth Fleet? Bahrain will eventually explode, but American support of the monarchy gives it free reign to repress the freedom movement and clamp down the pressure-cooker lid even more tightly.
The Obama Administration has dissembled its way across the Middle East, leaving enemies and allies alike uncertain of our intentions. Russia, China and Iran have been much more transparent. Saudi Arabia immediately gave Egypt’s General Sisi $12 billion in aid after the army deposed Morsi, the first democratically elected leader in Egypt’s 5,000-year history. Obama in contrast withdrew from joint military exercises but seemed uncertain whether to cut other aid.
Russia has clearly backed Syria’s Assad, while Obama has dithered over a military response to nerve gas attacks against civilians. If there is a response, it now seems designed to punish Assad without actually hurting him.
After months of tacitly supporting the rebels, the administration seems desperate to avoid hitting important military targets when it punishes Assad. And to the horror of American military leadership, the administration has planned its attack in public, all but sending Assad a map of likely targets. Expect Assad to be ungrateful.
Our foreign policy in the Middle East is incoherent. There is no strategic vision on display, only one ad hoc reaction after another. Secretary of State John Kerry wanders aimlessly through it all like a patrician Forrest Gump.
Five years ago the Norwegian parliament awarded Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in the hope that the change he represented would bring peace. It never occurred to them that change could be for the worse. Rarely has peace seemed so unattainable in the Middle East, nor the web of alliances and hatreds so tangled. It takes a special kind of genius to make so many wrong steps to make an impossibly bad situation even worse.
President Obama is a very special kind of genius.
James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years working in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He returned to Ukraine recently to teach principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Ukrainian law schools for a USAID legal development project. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.