The president now finds himself with so little standing that he can hardly find an ally to help punish the Assad regime in Syria for apparent use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians. Sharply contrasting the coalition that former President George W. Bush put together for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama as of last week had been able to persuade only France and Turkey to back a missile strike in Syria.
The biggest stunner was the British Parliament’s vote against joining with Obama — rejecting Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for support from the country that has been America’s staunchest ally in past wars.
What’s at stake is credibility, as Secretary of State John Kerry asserted last week in his speech arguing for an attack on Syrian targets. This it what he said about that point:
“It matters deeply to the credibility and the future interests of the United States of America and our allies. It matters because a lot of other countries, whose policy has challenged these international norms, are watching. They are watching. They want to see whether the United States and our friends mean what we say. It is directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the United States when it says something.”
That is certainly true, but Obama’s credibility already has been damaged badly. It gets back to his drawing red lines that the Syrian regime must not cross by using chemical weapons in the country’s 2-year-old civil war. Credibility crunch time came after a deadly chemical attack on Aug. 21.
Last week, Obama said there was no doubt Assad’s regime deployed chemical weapons “in the highly populated suburbs of Damascus” and left “hospitals overflowing with victims. ... All told well over 1,000 people were murdered. Several hundred of them were children — young girls and boys gassed to death by their own government.” Kerry later said sarin gas was used.
As late as Friday, Obama seemed on the brink of ordering cruise missiles fired at Syrian targets from U.S. warships in the Mediterranean. He seemed willing to go it alone if he couldn’t pull together a coalition of nations — and he seemed uninterested in asking for congressional approval.
Then, unexpectedly, on Saturday he announced: “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.” But he’s in no hurry. He said Congress can take up the matter when it reconvenes Sept. 9. About half an hour after his speech, he went to play golf with VP Joe Biden. Talk about credibility?
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said, “I wish he would have called us back to vote on this immediately.” Yes, that was the more credible course. But there will be a debate in Congress — and that’s good news for the American people.