Major Stumble on Syria by Barack Obama?

Did President Barack Obama stumble bigtime in his comments about Syria, locking himself into a position he might not otherwise take? The New York Times reports:

Confronted with evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, President Obama now finds himself in a geopolitical box, his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.

The origins of this dilemma can be traced in large part to a weekend last August, when alarming intelligence reports suggested the besieged Syrian government might be preparing to use chemical weapons. After months of keeping a distance from the conflict, Mr. Obama felt he had to become more directly engaged.

In a frenetic series of meetings, the White House devised a 48-hour plan to deter President Bashar al-Assad of Syria by using intermediaries like Russia and Iran to send a message that one official summarized as, “Are you crazy?” But when Mr. Obama emerged to issue the public version of the warning, he went further than many aides realized he would.

Moving or using large quantities of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and “change my calculus,” the president declared in response to a question at a news conference, to the surprise of some of the advisers who had attended the weekend meetings and wondered where the “red line” came from. With such an evocative phrase, the president had defined his policy in a way some advisers wish they could take back.

“The idea was to put a chill into the Assad regime without actually trapping the president into any predetermined action,” said one senior official, who, like others, discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity. But “what the president said in August was unscripted,” another official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the “nuance got completely dropped.”

As a result, the president seems to be moving closer to providing lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, even though he rejected such a policy just months ago. American officials have even discussed with European allies the prospect of airstrikes to take out Syrian air defenses, airplanes and missile delivery systems, if government use of chemical weapons is confirmed.

And now there is a new ingredient in the mix which makes it even more perilous: reports say Assad may soon formally declare war against Israel due to airstrikes. Tensions are increasing as Israeli government bigwigs meet soon in a cabinet meeting.

7 Comments

  1. Well Syria and Isreal are already at war. An official declaration will just bring in all the allies. Now were talking ugly.
    As for Obama’s next move, I don’t see that he has left himself any choices. Arm the rebels and take the consequences. Just my opinion.

  2. Who are the Syrian rebels? All that I can learn from the US media is that al-Assad is “a bad guy.” But does that make his opponents good guys? Who run the rebellion? What is their ideology? What kind of a state will they establish? How many people have been killed by the rebels?
    I know that the rebels receive material support from Al Qaeda. I don’t think that Al Qaeda has suddenly become interested in building Swiss style democracies around the world.
    The rebels are supported by Saudi Arabia. Can someone explain why we have to shed blood every time Saudis see fit to make a phone call?
    I understand Israel’s position. In the long run their northern border will occupied by Hezbollah or Al Qaeda which is a wash for them. In the short run they might as well hobble Hezbollah which might allow them to improve their allies position in Lebanon.
    Let’s go slow. No guns; no shooting. Crank up the humanitarian aid to refugees in Turkey and Jordan. How about finding out what the international community thinks? The Arab League threw out al-Assad in 2011; are they willing to do something.
    Let’s think before we shoot. And sending in guns is equivalent to shooting.

  3. It may be too late. There are rumors that several hundred Eastern European Muslims have joined the Al Queda units already in Syria. Too risky, say some.
    Obama can do other things and should also bolster humanitarian efforts in Jordan and Turkey to the utmost.

  4. As James Carville said this morning while talking about the Syrian rebels, this ain’t Patrick Henry and Benjamin Franklin we’re talking about here. The US should not be drawn into this war.

    I don’t know what to make of Obama supposedly going off script and not explaining the nuances of his statement about Syria and chemical weapons. Anyone who has ever listed to his press conferences knows he normally explains the nuances to exhaustion. If he truly misspoke maybe he should have clarified his position before nine months passed? Maybe he was hesitant to do so because of the November election?

  5. I do agree with Marsman. He has some very valid points. The US also wonders about the loyalty of those so called rebels, which is why we are hesitant to arm them with anything longrange.
    The new wild card in this hand has become the Syrian( maybe) threat to openly declare war with Isreal. If they do that,it creates a whole new dynamic in how we act and our allies act and how THEIR allies act. This has the potential to be a disaster of gargantuan proportions.
    Stepping up aid would be a nice alternative to contributing to more gunfire and destruction, but( our military thinking is) we need to help STOP it…by forceful means if necessary before 70k becomes 370 or 500k.

  6. Another agreement with Marsman. Are we utterly incapable of learning from our mistakes? Can we please evolve to the point where military “solutions” are the absolutely LAST recourse? And please, we need to stop making public declarations about red lines and time tables; all this does is get us into trouble. As for Israel, I think it would be naive to imagine the airstrikes in Syria were done without a green light from the Obama administration.

  7. “And please, we need to stop making public declarations about red lines and time tables; all this does is get us into trouble.”

    So true, zephyr. The big talk only works if the other side believes you (i.e., Kennedy or the current Israel). Obama falls just short here. That may be a problem. I wish he had been more thoughtful.

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