Largely because the world has a moral imperative to say something, and do something about the callousness of the indiscriminate use of chemical warfare — whether it was by the government or by the rebels — which still hasn’t been sorted out.
To his credit, President Barack Obama has called out the tragedy. He was also pushed to do something about it. His initial position was information gathering and no rush to judgment. But as the facts became clearer, the anti-war president most of the nation voted for became a war hawk.
His rationale is sound — that America, as “defenders of the free world,” a term used during the Cold War and the period of unilateralism that followed, uses its might to do right, not the other way around. But his politics has gotten twisted abroad and at home.
At home, war fatigue and an obstructionist Congress has made it difficult for the president to make his case. It was smart for the president to punt to Congress, to give both houses another chance to work with him (already knowing that they probably wouldn’t).
But this time, Congress may have had good reason for obstructing. It did appear that the president was moving too fast — and he did have the power to pull the trigger without Congress, as unwise and unpopular as it may have been. But it is not as unpopular as the move would have been in the global geopolitical landscape.
With the emergence of China, and the re-emergence of Russia, as global powers, the United States no longer has the discretion to move about the globe with impunity, and “check” sovereign nations. On the 12th anniversary of the greatest foreign assault on American soil, we have to remember there was great sympathy for the United States to get to the bottom of the terrorist attack. The U.S. was given great latitude, for a decade — even when the proof wasn’t there and the world knew we were wrong — to prove “right makes might” for acts against humanity.
However, in the aftermath of Iraq and Libya, and the destabilization of the region, particularly in Egypt and now Syria make for a very tenuous situation for the United States and Israel. The world community is not as tolerant of the war talk of either nation.
You knew the U.S. was in trouble when Britain said, “No, not this time.” But the international buzz has already blown back, as those who expect the United States to always step in the gap, have accused the president of going back on his word — that if Syria crossed the “red line” that America would act. It’s a no-win for the U.S., which seems more concerned about looking weak than being wrong.
The president, who voted against the Iraq War when he was a senator, has been determined not to have a deja vu moment by going into Syria without having proof that chemical weapons existed.
Turns out he was right on the intelligence, but are U.S. vital interests threatened? This is as much of the issue as the unintended consequences may be greater than the actual act itself.
The concern that Obama is becoming increasingly hawkish, in a lame-duck capacity, has public opinion siding against the president. In theory, if you were against the war in Iraq on a fundamental premise that no vital U.S. interests were being threatened when Saddam Hussain used chemical weapons against the Kurds, then you would have to be against invading Syria on that same premise.
The circumstances are not that vastly different. And the U.S. paid dearly in the aftermath as unintended consequences mushroomed into a decade-long war.
That’s the real dilemma for President Obama that has people looking at him sideways.
How can he change his position now that he’s the president? A position that got him elected, by the way.
Lauryn Hill once said, “Consequence is no coincidence.”
The U.S. has seen the consequences of going in too early — billions and billions of dollars and thousands of lives. It’s no coincidence that the world is resisting Obama’s “call to action.” The threat that the United States was about to act caused the world community to step in the gap. And a drive-by air strike to slap Assad just to slap him makes little sense to anybody. It doesn’t assure that it won’t happen again. And as it keeps coming up time and time again, “The U.S. is not the world’s police”… anymore.
The Congressional hearing with Secretary of State John Kerry produced the out that the world community was waiting for — and a way for the U.S. to save face. They are calling it diplomacy by accident, but who cares how it came about. The fact is that is it’s a viable solution. Syria’s biggest ally is Russia. When a congressional member asked how we can avoid this, Kerry said, “Syria needs to give up its chemical weapons.”
Russia said ok. We can negotiate that and the U.S. and President Obama have their out.
Russia is in the region, as in China. It has vital interests in the region and they are closer to the situation. It’s classic geopolitics, a study in politics, geography, demography and economics. Russia has a diplomacy that Syria can trust. While the United States trusts neither Russia’s nor Syria’s diplomacy, at this point it’s the solution that makes the most sense.
Even President Obama had to acquiesce to that. Attempting peace by diplomacy, wherever it exists in the world, beats attempted peace by force any day. The world sees that.
Now if we can only get the U.S. to see that. The U.S. has proven that it has might. Can it prove in the world community that it can be right … again? Iraq shows that the U.S. can be wrong.
Opinion is that Obama is looking weak and indecisive by deferring to diplomacy.
I’d rather Obama look right and give peace by negotiation a chance to work.
Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist and author of “REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture.” He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.