What does the world look like when people begin to doubt the credibility of U.S. power? Unfortunately, we’re finding that out in Syria and other nations where leaders have concluded they can defy a war-weary United States without paying a price. Using military power to maintain a nation’s credibility may sound like an antiquated idea, but it’s all too relevant in the real world we inhabit. It has become obvious in recent weeks that President Obama, whose restrained and realistic foreign policy I generally admire, needs to demonstrate that there are consequences for crossing a U.S. “red line.” Otherwise, the coherence of the global system begins to dissolve.
MARC A. THIESSEN
So what is Obama’s objective in Syria? In an interview with PBS, Obama said it would be to fire a “shot across the bow” of the Syrian regime. Huh? A “shot across the bow” is a warning shot. It is designed to send a message that a far more devastating response will follow if the target does not alter its behavior. But Obama has already ruled out broader military action. “I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria,” he said last week. “I assure you nobody ends up being more war-weary than me.” In other words, he’s just planning to blow some stuff up.
WALL STREET JOURNAL
This will go down as one of the stranger gambles, if not abdications, in Commander in Chief history. For days his aides had been saying the President has the Constitutional power to act alone in response to Syria…. and that he planned to do so. On Friday, he rolled out Secretary of State John Kerry to… declare that a response was urgent. But on Friday night, according to leaks from this leakiest of Administrations, the President changed his mind. A military strike was not so urgent that it couldn’t wait for Congress to finish its August recess… It’s hard not to see this as primarily a bid for political cover… Mr. Obama can read the polls, which show that most of the public opposes intervention… Around the world he has so far mobilized mainly a coalition of the unwilling, with even the British Parliament refusing to follow his lead. By comparison, George W. Bush on Iraq looks like Metternich.
KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Mr. Obama has treated Syria as a political problem from the start, viewing it almost solely as a liability to the administration’s public-opinion polling, its presidential electioneering and its rival domestic priorities. Viewing Mr. Obama’s punt to Congress as anything but political is almost impossible. And yet the president again lectures Congress to rise above the “partisan” politics that he has, with great calculation, dumped on them. The challenge for Republicans is to do just that, to remember (no matter how painful) that this is not a vote about the president or his machinations. The only question before Republicans is this: Will they send a message to the world’s despots that America will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction? If they will not send that message, they risk complicity in this president’s failed foreign policy.
ELIOT A. COHEN
WALL STREET JOURNAL
On Saturday, when President Obama overruled his advisers, reversed his own policy and declared that he would not act against Syria until Congress has had its say, he did not—as he might have—recall Congress for that purpose. Instead, Mr. Obama said he would let the vote wait for 10 days or more. Then he promptly left the White House for the golf course. … One has to suspect that the Syrian government deliberately used sarin in the Damascus suburbs while United Nations inspectors were in the capital, and on the eve of the anniversary of Mr. Obama’s red line statement. The essence of tyranny is this message to a population: “We will impose our will on you. No one cares about your suffering, and no one will do anything to rescue you.”
… the Obama administration has made a difficult situation much worse by articulating a series of objectives (“Bashar al-Assad must go”; “Chemical weapons use crosses a red line”) and policies (“we will arm the opposition”) and then failing to follow them through. Requiring authority from Congress at the eleventh hour introduced further undesirable uncertainty. Improvisation and policy making on the fly can be disastrous.