It all depends upon what Barack Obama wanted. If he wanted a nice little police action with cruise missiles and a far from certain outcome, he’s probably not happy.
If on the other hand he wanted to mop up Bashir al-Assad’s chemical weapons and make a point that gas is not done, I’d say he looks as if he’s well on the way. If the object of the exercise is the result, how you achieve it, so long as it’s legal and moral, doesn’t really matter.
Ralph Waldo Emerson correctly observed, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn't matter who gets the credit.”
In that spirit, let’s give Vladimir Putin all the credit, even though it was a crack in the diplomatic door that got the whole thing rolling. His piece in the New York Times was self-serving, faintly insulting, as Jon Stewart remarked, “The Larry David of diplomacy.” That’s OK, this is about results, not process. When big chips are on the table, the Secretary of State doesn’t do slips of the tongue. As the car careened toward the cliff, Kerry merely asked, “Would you like to know about the brake?”
There is little doubt left, courtesy of the UN, that Bashir al-Assad’s forces used Sarin gas. Disgusting behavior is a hallmark of both sides in this war. From one rebel cutting a man’s heart out and eating same, to summary execution as You Tube material, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. My problem with firing cruise missiles into the middle of this mess was that it wouldn’t actually achieve anything and we might be tempted to do more.
There is a maxim that the first casualty of any war is the battle plan. The most carefully planned attack, the most detailed plan for any battle, is almost certainly rendered irrelevant with the first shot and from there on you make it up as you go along. Where the action takes you, how it ends, is not predictable. That’s a lesson we have learned repeatedly.
The Middle East, as a region, is either involved in, or close to, sectarian war. The divisions that separate Islam are deep, centuries old and when politics removes the lid that keeps them from boiling over, boil they do. Uncle Sam, while a powerful Uncle, is no match for conflicting religious beliefs unleashed and while we could impose our will upon Iraq, the Iraqis went to slaughtering each other by the thousands and they continue to bomb and assassinate each other now that we have left. In Afghanistan the root of the troubles is religious and for the same reason our boots on the ground create only temporary peace. Unless our force is overwhelming, the fight breaks out again.
Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich points out that our record in the Middle East, since the Carter Administration is, overall, a record of failure. Our diplomatic efforts have enjoyed some slight success. Our military efforts have failed, usually at immense cost in our treasure, cost in American lives and in thousands of lives of the local inhabitants. The reason, Bacevich says, is the fact that America is irrelevant to the Middle East. Like a well-intentioned maiden aunt we’d do better to mind our own business.
The President’s decision to seek Congressional approval is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that the Constitutional Law Professor is aware that bad precedents have been set and that there is a very strong argument that says Congress alone has the power to make war.
Legally, no doubt, the President may have the power to unleash some cruise missiles. His predecessors have done so and the republic stands. But Mr. Obama would prefer to face defeat than end-run Congress yet again. That’s courage. President Obama doesn’t have to calculate re-election into his equation, but one suspects that he is mindful of the opposition that ordinary Americans have when it comes to once more injecting American military power into a scrap that doesn’t affect us directly. In such circumstances the President sets a good precedent for the future. With announced agreement between ourselves and the Russians, the naysayers who declared Obama as “beaten,” “out-maneuvered” or “fumbling” are looking pretty silly.
As things have turned out, The Tea Party is left with agreeing with Obama or Putin; now that’s a Hobson’s Choice! I’d say the President has taken a bad situation and played it very skillfully.
War is diplomacy by other means, likewise, diplomacy is war, by other means.