This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Portrait of a President

"We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
"When you have a professional army that is well armed and sponsored by two large states [—Iran and Russia—] who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict … the notion that we could have—in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces—changed the equation on the ground there was never true."
"It’s important for us to recognize that when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used even in war, and there is no action, then we’re sending a signal that that international norm doesn’t mean much. And that is a danger to our national security."
"I’m very proud of this moment [pulling back from the 'red line']. The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make."
U.S. President Barack Obama

"The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad … left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled."
Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle."
Former U.S. Secretary of State, current Democratic presidential candidate-elect Hillary Clinton

"Credibility and the future interests of the United States of America and our allies [were at stake]. It is directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the United States when it says something. They are watching to see if Syria can get away with it, because then maybe they too can put the world at greater risk."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Explaining his August 30, 2013 decision to rethink his formerly firm position on a red line being crossed with the use of forbidden chemical weapons by the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, President Obama stated: "We had UN inspectors on the ground who were completing their work, and we could not risk taking a shot while they were there. A second major factor was the failure of [British Prime Minister] Cameron to obtain the consent of his parliament."

Clearly, if Barack Obama placed any credibility in the old adage beloved of one of his principled predecessors, President Harry S. Truman, that 'the buck stops here', he doesn't believe it refers to himself as current President of the United States. Another issue that factored into President Obama's decision not to enforce his warning against the use of chemical agents in Assad's war against his Sunni Syrian population was "our assessment that while we could inflict some damage on Assad, we could not, through a missile strike, eliminate the chemical weapons themselves, and what I would then face was the prospect of Assad having survived the strike and claiming he had successfully defied the United States, that the United States had acted unlawfully in the absence of a UN mandate, and that that would have potentially strengthened his hand rather than weakened it."

In other words, punishment for inflicting an agonizing death on Syrian civilians, including children for protestors' arrogance in believing they could persuade their president to recognize their call for civic equality within Syria, was not to be meted out despite the threat to do so, on reconsideration that to do so might conceivably backlash into embarrassment for the United States. A rather weak argument given the inescapable reality that Mr. Obama's pull-back did indeed leave the U.S. much diminished in the opinion of the global community.

Yet another factor that was revealed by the president in his interview with a journalist interlocutor for The Atlantic was in his opinion of profound philosophical importance: "This falls in the category of something that I had been brooding on for some time. I had come into office with the strong belief that the scope of executive power in national-security issues is very broad, but not limitless", so he restrained his impulse to act decisively and instead chose to react passively, much to the delight of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose agenda President Obama adopted.

President Obama's ultimate choice which led to a diminishing of the influence and trust of the United States on the world political landscape was immediate and profound. Manuel Valls, France's prime minister spoke of his country's disbelief: "By not intervening early, we have created a monster. We were absolutely certain that the U.S. administration would say yes. Working with the Americans, we had already seen the targets. It was a great surprise. If we had bombed as was planned, I think things would be different today."

The more generalized view of traditional U.S. allies in the Islamic ummah in Africa and the Middle East was that this was an "untrustworthy" man who had spectacularly failed to make good his threats uttered at a time when such a threat, meant to forestall the commission of war crimes by a government against its own population, might have had a positive effect through a response that carried on directly from the threat of action as a consequence of a government atrocity.

Jordan's King Abdullah II stated: "I think I believe in American power more than Obama does", in his disappointment that once again the U.S. under this administration was distancing itself from its traditional allies in the Middle East. Barack Obama spoke to the Muslim world from Cairo University that a new day was dawning in American relations with the Muslim world. And that much was certainly true; unfortunately that new dawning took a totally unexpected tack, one that took Sunni Arabs by complete surprise.

"Iran is the new great power of the Middle East and the U.S. is the 'old'", bitterly stated the Saudi ambassador in Washington. "Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power", President Obama answered his own rhetorical question. "That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply."

"Once the commander in chief draws that red line, then I think the credibility of the commander-in-chief and this nation is a stake if he doesn't enforce it", stated Leon Panetta, CIA director, then secretary of defense in the first Obama term of office. And he was certainly not alone in this opinion. A private statement following directly on her president's reversal, had Hillary Clinton state: "If you say you’re going to strike, you have to strike. There’s no choice."

There is something about which President Obama cannot be faulted, however, even as he failed in the test as president to remain true to his word. He observes the expectations of major players in the Middle East that it must be the United States that steps in and solves all the regional problems, leaving them off the hook for responsibility to their own region. Turkey, with its huge well-equipped military had the potential to single-handedly -- or with coordination with Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- stop the Syrian dictator whose actions caused Recep Tayyip Erdogan such raging condemnation.

The Arab League between them, comprised of mostly Sunni majority nations have equipped themselves well with the weapons of war, but they have only amassed a combined army on occasions when they meant to assault and destroy Israel. In the face of Shiite Alawite Syria's government's devastatingly wholesale attacks on its Sunni population, having thus far in the five years of civil war butchered an estimated three-quarters of a million people, they would have been justified in stepping in and taking responsibility to stop the slaughter, and prevented half of Syria's population from becoming refugees.

Portrait of a Presidential Mind -- The Atlantic

This, clearly, is a president who stands out from his predecessors. His view of what an American president could and should accomplish is his alone. His legacy will see a much-reduced America in world opinion weighing the effect his administration has had on world affairs. He has questioned traditional alliances, seen enemies in those who were considered 'friends' but never were, and in that way accurately assessed that kind of tradition relating to U.S. foreign policy. He thought to make friends of enemies, and to recognize friends as enemies, as he felt appropriate.

The miserably fractious, militant Islamism exemplified by Pakistan as an example did not appeal to him as a traditional friend and partner, despite the billions in U.S. treasury that supported the Pakistan military which itself in turn supported the Afghan Taliban that attacked American troops in Afghanistan.  And while he has questioned why his country has tied itself to the assurance to Israel that America is committed to ensuring Israel's military edge over its neighbours, he also recognizes that Sunni Arab allies like Saudi Arabia have been hugely responsible for the rise of anti-American terrorism.

He placed his bet on the wrong horse when he negotiated with the Islamic Republic of Iran -- a country which consistently and frequently rebuffed his attempts to mend political-diplomatic relations, prepared to do so even while acknowledging that Iran is a purveyor and supporter of terrorism and a threat to the stability of the Middle East, let alone a growing threat to the world at large through its nuclear ambitions -- for conditions each side could live with to forestall those nuclear ambitions, and lifting economic sanctions that kept Iran in check.

Under his watch as the most powerful man on Earth, as leader of the most prosperous, influential and powerful nation on the globe, world security has diminished. Iran's Khomeinists have restored relations with other rogue states through financial generosity extended to Hezbollah and Hamas, thanks to the outcome of the 'successful' nuclear agreement, leaving Iran to violate UN resolutions through test-firing ballistic missiles where Iran's intention to destroy Israel are writ large.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has grown tentacles all over the world of Islam as disaffected Muslims on a psychological rampage against the West cling to the martyrdom cult of traditional Islamic jihad to set out on a wide path of blood-soaked atrocities. James Clapper, Director of U.S. National Intelligence stated that the number of countries facing a "significant risk of instability" has grown by 59 additions.

And Devin Nunes, chair of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee has stated that the United States of America now faces "the highest threat level since the 9/11 attacks". Some legacy, that, even if world events have conspired to engulf the U.S. in a quagmire of complex and disabling situations inimical to its own stability, leading to a disaffected population prepared to entertain the possibility of electing a celebrity-mountebank.

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