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LAMBRO: How to fail in leadership without really trying
Obama calls out Syria, then calls it off
We now know that President Obama’s national security warnings were written in disappearing ink that fades the moment he gets into trouble.
As reports began appearing with increasing frequency that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad was using chemical weapons against his own people, Mr. Obama tried playing the tough guy, warning the Damascus dictator that doing so would cross “a red line” that would invite U.S. retaliation.
Thinking Mr. Obama was all bluff and bluster, someone whose threats weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, Mr. Assad sent gas-filled, rocket-propelled missiles into civilian-populated areas outside the capital that were supporting the rebel freedom fighters.
Mr. Obama sent U.S. naval ships into the region, armed with cruise missiles, then went before the country to say he would punish Mr. Assad by bombing his military facilities. He also said he’d seek the support of European leaders at the Group of 20 summit and a vote of approval from Congress to show national solidarity.
He flew home from St. Petersburg, Russia, though, with no support for his limited, punitive war plans, a stunning international rebuke for a U.S. president. Then he woke up the next day to a pile of polls showing most Americans opposed getting involved in Syria’s bloody civil war.
That was followed by the ultimate humiliation: Advisers told him he couldn’t win a vote of approval in the GOP-run House, where a number of Democrats planned to vote no, and the Democratic Senate also looked like an impossible sell.
Mr. Obama was in a foreign-policy stew of his own making, looking weak, confused and incompetent as ever, and not knowing what to do next. CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer put it best when he said on the air, “What a mess.”
That’s when Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Assad’s chief apologist and principal arms provider, threw Mr. Obama a political lifeline to get out of the foreign-policy disaster he had created — but only on terms that served Mr. Putin’s sinister interests, as well as those of Mr. Assad.
Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry grabbed the Russian leader’s plan and eagerly swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
Mr. Putin’s devious offer — if anyone believes it will happen — calls for Mr. Assad to turn over his chemical weapons to full international control and to ensure that none have been hidden for later use. That’s a process that will take months, if not years, to conduct and complete.
Mr. Obama quickly put his threat of retaliation on hold for the foreseeable future. War resolution votes in Congress were indefinitely postponed. The stark “red line” has vanished from the administration’s dialogue. No one talks seriously of punishing Mr. Assad for the killing of 1,400 Syrians by the most heinous, agonizing death imaginable.
While his stepped-up military offensive isn’t getting much attention on the nightly network news, Mr. Assad has widened his war dramatically. More than 1,000 people died in the fighting last week, according to The Washington Post.
This is now taking place without a peep from Mr. Obama, who has been busy licking his own political wounds, and is glad to have handed off the ball to diplomats and their endless negotiations to locate Mr. Assad’s chemical tanks and perhaps seek a negotiated settlement to the war. It’s a surreal situation only Neville Chamberlain could love.
While Mr. Obama’s job-approval polls on the economy are at new lows, his job-approval numbers on protecting us from international terrorism and military threats have also fallen sharply in the past year. The Gallup Poll now says that 45 percent of Americans “believe the Republican Party is better on protecting the country,” but only 39 percent think the Democrats are. Notably, the poll was taken when Mr. Obama was trying to rally public approval for a missile strike against Syria.
Now he is trying to persuade us that we can negotiate in good faith with Mr. Assad, who still denies he used chemical weapons on his own people. The clear evidence produced by the United Nations weapons inspectors shows the missiles that landed in the residential Damascus neighborhoods had Iranian-built launching systems. Others had Russian lettering on their shell parts. All of these weapons were known to be tightly controlled by Syrian military forces.
Now Mr. Obama has turned over all responsibility to the negotiators and essentially washed his hands of the entire affair, while the slaughter in Syria continues unabated.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.
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