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I'm not saying that President Obama has played it masterfully.  I'm not even claiming that his judgments have necessarily been basically right. Maybe they were, or maybe they weren't. But his big decisions have been at least defensible, reasonable, plausible.

Yet, as this whole Syrian story has unfolded, Obama has gotten little respect, as if he did not measure up to the American standard for commanders-in-chief.  

The right --like John McCain-- has been pounding Obama for many months for being a wuss for not jumping into the Syrian civil war in some way that would get us enmeshed and incur responsibility in a situation over which our control is dubious.  Maybe McCain and Co. are right, but after our experience with their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, maybe the ability of these Republican hawks to fully foresee the consequences of involvement should not be assumed.

Maybe Obama's restraint is wiser --better for the nation-- than the path of action the Republicans have castigated him for not acting.  That is as plausible as their case.

Maybe it was not best that the President drew that "red line" about the use of chemical weapons.  My guess is that he did it because the Republicans put him in a position where he felt the need to refute their "Obama's a wuss on Syria" attack by showing that he's ready to flex American muscle, but there's got to be more of our interests involved than there were then.  Hence a red line beyond which...

Once that line got drawn --whether or not Obama should or shouldn't have drawn it (and whether or not the Republicans basically pushed him into it with their latest version of the old Republican theme of only WE are manly enough to protect Americans and be the exceptional big guy in the world)-- it created a reality that must be taken into account when, as has now happened, the Syrian regime so brazenly crossed it.  

Whether we like it or not, the failure of the President of the United States to back up his threat can have serious repercussions in terms of world stability.

American power is not always used in benign ways, certainly. But overall, if the credibility of American threats were to erode in any serious way, the world would be destabilized and would move, through a dangerous process, to a geopolitical order that would likely be worse for the world than what we have now. Think of who would fill the void, and what would happen if the void stays unfilled.

Neither we, or most of the rest of the world, will prefer a geo-political system where an American threat or promise lacks credibility.  (That may be especially true with respect to the very important goal of preventing any kind of war in the Middle East over the Iranian nuclear program.)

So it was also perfectly defensible --at least as likely to be the right move involving the use of American force as most of the uses we've had since World War II-- for the president to call for a targeted, limited strike. Not to get involved, but not to let the nerve-gas massacre pass without consequences, either.

Even if President Obama's decision is within the range of reasonable, some of the Republicans (and some of the same ones who have been beating him up for not striking harder and sooner) have attacked Obama as aggressive and reckless. And at the same time as a wuss-- a wuss now for turning to Congress for approval. Not man enough to just outright hit the enemy and make the world conform to our will.

Too much of a wuss and too aggressive, too. Neat trick.

But coming to Congress was also a most defensible move. There was no urgency.  There's no need for the president to bypass the notion that Congress is supposed to be involved in questions of war and peace, even if we no longer declare war (and haven't since 1941).  So why not try to re-balance the powers some in an area that's run too far toward an imperial presidency, especially as abused by George W. Bush?  And why not also further fortify that credibility of American words and power that the right would claim to care so much about by showing a united front?

Republicans would have every reason --as patriots-- to rally together to underscore that though this nation is tired of war, we are united enough as a nation to be willing to back a president whose judgments are at least defensible, and are better than those of the last president who gave us two disastrous wars.

But of course, these Republicans have always been willing to put their quest for partisan advantage, by undermining Obama every way they can even at the cost of the nation's being able to meet its challenges of all sorts. So why not also with this Syrian crisis?

Obama, however, bears responsibility also. He has not been able to get the American people to follow him. Partly it's because the nation is understandably and properly tired of war. But part of it is also because this president has not held his own in our domestic war.

As a result of the Republicans' war upon him, and his failure to deal with it effectively, enough Americans don't see him in a way that disposes them to follow his leadership on this matter. There's the 30 percent who hate him with a passion. And there's the segment that has been taught to have no respect for him.

The media we now see piling on Obama, seeing in him no strength or clarity of purpose or clear game plan. Yes, maybe FDR would have managed the process better. But let's remember how these media lionized the courageous and manly President George W. "Mission Accomplished" Bush as he led us into arguably the biggest foreign policy blunder in American history.

So the president's enemies in Congress get fortified how the winds of public opinion is blowing-- blowing on them but on all the rest of Congress as well.

And finally, there's the pivot to accommodate the Kerry/Russian idea. Arguably, this could be a real achievement for the administration, even if it was not planned. If it can be achieved that the consequence of Obama's way of thoughtfully navigating this thing has had the unanticipated consequence of leading peaceful to the destruction of Syria's supply of chemical weapons, that would be a better outcome than we've had with most of our forays into geo-politically important areas with our military or threat thereof.

The biggest effect of our long nightmare in Iraq, let's not forget, has been the strengthening of Iran.  

But the involvement of the Russians is also used to portray Obama as failing in leadership.

So we watch as many of the Republicans get up on their high horses and speak disrespectfully of how Obama's managed this crisis. After their disasters, one might hope for a bit of humility. But that implies a degree of moral integrity that is not part of the spirit that now runs the Republican Party. They've bungled one thing after another, left the nation in tatters in 2009, yet have not for a moment shown the slightest capacity for shame. Shame is not part of that spirit.

It just doesn't give a damn, and so they're no less willing to strut around and say how it should be done just because they made a hash of everything during Bush's presidency.

In sum:  Obama's done at least a decent, and perhaps even good, job navigating in a flexible and sensitive way the kind of decisions that we've not dealt with so well in recent years. But he's faced with Republicans who damn him whatever he does, and a public that is not disposed to follow him.

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Comment Preferences

  •  he measures up very well (5+ / 0-)
    as if he did not measure up to the American standard for commanders-in-chief.
    that's the problem.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 09:19:15 PM PDT

    •  i don't know. IS there a standard? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      artmartin

      by the way the US public has reacted to Syria compared to, say Iraq, i don't know if there's a standard or if there's just a lot of political positioning pretending to be a standard.  and i mean that about the average joe six pack, not politicians.  

      •  since wwii (7+ / 0-)

        we have a consistent standard of getting into wars we shouldn't be fighting, and having a hard time getting out of them.

        The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

        by Laurence Lewis on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 10:49:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Obama doesn't measure up (7+ / 0-)

          He ended the war in Iraq. He is winding down the war in Afghanistan (not an easy task). He got khadaffi without boots on the ground and he's making Assad hand in his chemical weapons (and make the world safer in the proces) without firing a shot.

          So he doesn't measure up to the standard of commanders-in chief which is too shoot first ask questions later (Bill Clinton) or to drag us into a swamp (Bush).

          Thank god he doesn't measure up.

          Card-carrying member of the Illuminati.

          by DarkOmnius on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 02:08:56 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  perhaps you forgot (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            hardhatmama

            the double escalation of afghanistan and the drone wars. many do.

            The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

            by Laurence Lewis on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 02:41:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  way too much made of the drone wars (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              CwV

              he just changed the weapon used.  Like it or not those wars and the hunting down of those terrorists still have a few years until they really fade away.  If you agree we have to hunt down those really bad guys that truly are attempting massive terrorist strikes against the US, it's either drones or helicopter missions like we used against Bin Laden or bombing runs.  

              While we can cite statistics of how those drone attacks have risen since Obama came into office what's never talked about is how many less servicemen are dying and the lessened collateral damage from manned raids.  

              •  ask pakistan and yemen (0+ / 0-)

                about that. and i'm personally not into bombing civilians by accident to take out some bad guys.

                The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

                by Laurence Lewis on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 06:57:27 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  how would you do it then? (0+ / 0-)

                  Would you just let the bad guys live, with a chance of them developing the next 9/11, or would you rather have lots of "boots on the ground" with the risk of many, many more american servicemen dying in operations? Or are you naive enough to think you can send a diplomat to talk to muhjahedeen jihadists? All of these are options, which option would you take?

                  Card-carrying member of the Illuminati.

                  by DarkOmnius on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 01:22:32 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Yes (10+ / 0-)

    You put into words much of what I've been thinking about this situation.

    The contradictions and constant carping on the part of his critics from all across the political spectrum have become maddening.

    Too aggressive/not aggressive enough.

    Needs to consult Congress/upset when he does.

    At the moment, Obama's thoughtful response appears to be leading to the best possible resolution of the issue, yet he not only doesn't get credit for it, he's actually disparaged by all comers.

    Imagine if he hadn't threatened attacks at all and chemical weapons were used again. He'd go down in history as the President who allowed that to happen. The very same people who are criticizing him now would be criticizing him then but for the opposite reason.

    Thanks for your balanced and thoughtful assessment of the issue.

  •  President Obama is in the role of Jackie Robinson (9+ / 0-)

    and doing just fine. He is not nor will he ever be a poser, he has shown he isn't comfortable talking his accomplishments up. He'll take fewer WMDs in the world and let baggers (left and right) make fools of themselves.

  •  re US threats lacking credibility, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Johnny Q, Lepanto

    JFK drew a line with Cuba, then came the missile crisis, almost blundered into a nuclear war. The US threat to Vietnam, and Cambodia for no justiciable reason, cost over 4 million lives. The US is still fighting in Afghanistan, why nobody knows. Iraq everyone knows was war for the sake of war. Such barbarism is not considered backward, it's all for a humanitarian cause. Meanwhile humanity takes another step toward extinction. Either humanity evolves to the next level of weapons control and international law, or the world ends by someone who either cares more about delivering on a threat, or just doesn't care at all whether the world ends. Chemical weapons in Syria is not the issue. Peace in the middle east is the issue, and nobody on the US side seems willing to admit that they just don't really care one way or the other. The US position seems to be to let Syria beat up on Syria. War must be a good thing because we acccept austerity in order to pay for it.

  •  I respect the shameless audacity of blood lust (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hardhatmama

    I respect the revulsion of future generations regurgitating at the thought that, yet again, America- led by a bloodlusting hypocrite- severed arteries of innocents while ice caps melted and peak oil came and went.

    I respect the condemnation cried out with outrage at the willful abrocation of our moment in time- thrown away to spew in orgasmic barbarity the blood of innocents.

  •  i'm sure that Obama has kicked his own ass (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bluebottles, CwV, Larsstephens

    over the stumbles he and his administration have made in regards to Syria

    i give him credit for getting up after falling

    for each of the times he's fallen

    gulp

    and i can't be too hard on him, because at least he's not so proud that he can't pursue a resolution that is frankly embarrassing

    it shows his humility and his humanity

    i am not even remotely close to having a good sense of how to deal with Syria, so, i tend to give weight to people i respect

    i have a lot of respect for Obama.  he doesn't always 'got this', but he's got it a fuck of a lot more often than anyone else

    i mean, when i look at who we have working in political system and our news media, i have a hard time finding anyone who doesn't have their head up their own ass

    and when it comes to discussions about Syria, it's hard to find anyone who's really discussing instead of just arguing

    though, i suppose, that when there's only weeks or days before military action, there's not much time for discussion

  •  Sick of the cable pundits (5+ / 0-)

    Anyone with any intelligence has to realize this is a very complex situation. To say that Obama is fuzzy on the issues is downright stupid. Not only are some of the rebels true terrorists but they know where those chemical weapons are.

    And you have to realize that the Russians actually have a bigger stake in this than we do, because they have common borders and people like Chechnians would love to grab the weapons and the momentum as well.

    Send Assad to the World Court and what do you get? Destabilized Syria, terrorists in control, and chaos. Not that he doesn't richly deserve it, but the fact that our intelligent president isn't trigger happy should be something we are all praising...and the idea that he isn't planning as much as planning can happen is ridiculous.

  •  And the President is getting no credit for the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Seeds, Sylv, Larsstephens

    Russian proposal that Syria turn over its chemical weapons - despite the fact that both he and Putin have said that this is something they discussed at the G20 meeting and despite the fact that Syria certainly would not be thinking of doing so (if indeed it is not just a gambit) without the threat of the US strikes on their missile sites.

    You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union - Woody Guthrie

    by sewaneepat on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 04:52:58 AM PDT

  •  So, he's good on substance (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sylv

    but not so good on image.
    Needs a better PR team?
    Or we and the Media need to grow up.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Thu Sep 12, 2013 at 05:43:48 AM PDT

  •  what else is new (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens

    its been the fashion here for a long time.

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