As the nation contemplates launching but another “military action” into the heart of the Islamic world, I offer some food for thought.
First, his assertions to the contrary aside, it is likely that President Obama does not want to attack Syria. That he has reversed course to consult Congress to authorize a military strike bears this out. After all, the five long years that America has had to endure this presidency has made it painfully clear to all with eyes to see that Obama will not think twice to circumvent Congress when he wants something badly enough.
That he is not bypassing Congress now strongly suggests that he does not want to intervene in Syria all that badly. And that he is not now bypassing Congress in spite of having declared his intention to do exactly that in the event that Syria crossed that “red line” of his all but proves this thesis.
Second, commentators on both the left and right appear to be united in their belief that Obama is in a tough spot at the moment. I wish that they were correct. Unfortunately, they are not, for by going to Congress, Obama has not only gotten himself off of the hook; he has positioned himself to look good—or at least not bad—regardless of what happens.
Obama has got to know that the House of Representatives is most definitely not going to authorize him to strike Syria. And this is precisely why he’s going to Congress. If the latter rejects his overtures, then Obama can kill two birds with one stone: he can bolster his own image while tarnishing that of his opponents.
The first way in which he can use this to his advantage is by blaming whatever atrocities unfold in Syria upon the “indifference” and, quite possibly, “partisanship” of his Republican rivals (even though there are Democrats as well that refuse to go along with his agenda here). And, considering the Republicans’ support of the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan, both of which were reduced to extended “nation-building” engagements that have left the vast majority of Americans exhausted with talk of war, this wouldn’t be too terribly difficult to pull off.
At the same time, he can make himself look like the one who cared all along.
The second way in which Obama can make his opponents look petty and himself stately is by pointing out that while he was determined to intervene in Syria, he nevertheless faithfully abided by the Constitution’s separation of powers by deferring to Congress. Even more effectively, he can claim to have subordinated his own will to that of “the American People.”
The potential political benefits to be reaped from this move should not be understated.
Obama has always been infinitely more concerned, infinitely more aggressive, about promoting his domestic policy vision than that of his foreign policy. In fact, it is not really clear whether Obama even has a foreign policy vision or, if he does, what it might entail. By depicting himself as a temperate statesman who respects both the Constitution and the will of the public, Obama might be able to weaken his reputation as the radical that his opponents say he is. And if Americans begin looking at him in this more favorable light, Obama will stand a greater chance of perfecting his plan to “fundamentally transform” the country.
The third way in which Obama can exploit a defeat in Congress for his own purposes is by reminding his base and the public that he is not his predecessor, George W. Bush. Bush got the country mired in not one, but two, messy, unpopular wars. Obama can claim that whatever troubles plagued his administration, war was not one of them.
There is one final point that those on the right have seemed to overlook.
When Obama says that it isn’t he who drew “the red line,” but America that did so, this isn’t necessarily a ploy meant to either convince the public to support his efforts in Syria or save his face. For years, more than a few conservative-minded critics of the President have been vocal regarding their belief that Obama’s desire to “fundamentally transform” the country is nothing more or less than a desire to destroy it in favor of an America made in the image of his own leftist ideology.
Is it such a stretch to think that Obama wants to make his threat concerning “the red line” America’s threat because he knows that by failing to enforce it, America will appear weaker to the rest of the world? Being the man of the hard left that he is, Obama has always regarded America as the purveyor of all manner of evil in the world: “racism,” “imperialism,” etc. Does the idea that he wants for America to shed what he, along with every other leftist, views as its “John Wayne” complex, and that he thinks refusal to back up this threat against Syria may be a means toward this end, really sound that implausible?
Whether one is in favor or not of America’s intervening in Syria is irrelevant. What matters here is that we consider what may truly be motivating a man that many of us know too well.