Another 1,000 Words on Syria

Assad (left) and Putin (right)

Since I last spoke on Syria, the unthinkable has gone down: international diplomacy. Or at least that’s the fantastical illusion. Where do I begin? For the last two weeks the world has sat waiting for a vote from Congress on whether or not the United States would carry out a military strike against the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons. Call it a consequence of spontaneity, but in those two weeks the U.S. has done a staggering amount of backtracking. And by the U.S., I mean Obama. At first, his decision to strike Syria appeared unanimous and irreversible as though it would come in the following days or even hours. But then, understanding the negative public perception of a quick- to-war president and taking his cue from British Prime Minister Cameron, Obama called on Congress to approve authorization of a strike.

Years after Obama’s presidency has concluded, someone from his administration with inside knowledge of the situation will someday write a tell-all which will include a passage describing Obama’s deep displeasure in turning to Congress on Syria. He won’t say it now, but Syria is about saving face for the president. When he drew his now infamous “red line,” he was drafting a public promise to the world that his administration would take military action against Syria in the event of chemical weapons. He ignored that red line multiple times since setting it, but the events of August 21 were different. This time, there were widespread visual accounts of the attack on social media and a higher death toll. And so now Obama faces a conundrum: take action or go back on his word. Because that’s how it might seem to those internationally who took his “red line” statement as more than just empty rhetoric. And a president who wants to have some political life after his or her tenure ends can’t look like a liar.

But it’s not that easy once you involve Congress. Now, Obama faces defeat and embarrassment as PM Cameron faced when Parliament struck down a proposed British strike on Syria. And that is exactly why the news I woke up to this morning is such a poignant moment in United States foreign policy that it drove me once again to blog.

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