Have to give President Barack H. Obama credit. He has changed my mind on the prospects of taking action against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria in the face of alleged – and all but certain – use of chemical weapons against opposition forces and civilians.
My nut is not an easy nut to crack. I have long-held the personal belief that the United States held a special place in the community of nations. It’s a place – to my own thinking and values – where a World Superpower belongs. It’s the role that goes beyond the kind of standard-setting usually the purview of the United Nations. It’s the role of enforcing those standards of common decency when it comes to the bitter realities of armed conflict.
A lot of Americans will categorize this simplistically as the role of World Cop. Many disagree with me on this premise, that our country should be involved in events overseas that appear to have little or no direct impact on U.S. interests.
Those sentiments are well-founded and reflect the commonly held belief that American military personnel and U.S. treasure should be risked only in those situations linked to National Security in almost all cases. So maybe my viewpoint is quite firmly in the minority.
Yet it is a role that in my mind comes with being a World Leader and Superpower. It is a role we have filled many times in the past in various regions of the world in varying degrees of participation.
I am not fond of unilateral U.S. action. I do not favor the use of American boots-on-the-ground, especially in a situation like Syria. What I look for is an American-led process of Consensus Building; the development of a common sense and purpose amongst our primary allies, major world powers, and those countries in closest proximity to the danger and most likely to be affected by any widening of a regional conflict.
My view is of the United States as The Point Man on the diplomatic front and The Muscle when it comes to the military response for which we hold a decided advantage (i.e. technological, hardware, delivery systems, weaponry). When it comes to boots on the ground, the only enforcement situation where this should apply – in my humble opinion – is as part of a multi-national approach to a controllable environment (e.g. Bosnia; Clinton 1999) or where an immediate U.S. response would be sufficiently overwhelming (e.g. Grenada; Reagan 1983).
Now when it comes to Syria, President Obama has sufficiently altered the course of my thinking in a situation where a struggling regime gassed an overmatched military uprising and a defenseless civilian population …
… for all the wrong reasons.
Suddenly, under his mislaid concept of “leadership”, the U.S. looks timid, indecisive, and unfocused. American efforts to build an International Coalition of the Willing was shot in the foot by its biggest allie (Great Britain) before it even got rolling. (WIll we have to rename the English muffin?)
The Office of the President – long The Decider when it comes to the use of U.S. military power in short, direct, and sometimes personal (Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, 1986) responses to violations of international norms – appears confused by Britain’s rejection and unsure as to what to do next.
Instead the country’s Decider punted the issue – just as British Prime Minister David Cameron did – to the Legislator. From my perspective, this has the look of a President hoping someone will get him off the fish-hook he firmly set in his own mouth. When you use terms like “red line”, you had better have a plan of action with several iterations to account for unexpected developments like your Biggest International Allie getting cold feet.
The alternative, fall-back strategy? Apparently there wasn’t one. Which leads one to the obvious question … Who was doing the Leading? Right now, it looks like Cameron and the Brits.
So now Syria mocks us.
To fill the role of International Leader, you must be convinced of your Righteousness; firm in your ability to Lead, even if it means you must lead without your closest friends and allies at your side; and when all else fails, you must be prepared for bold action if necessary and if supported by the facts.
These are the kind of considerations President Obama should have kept in mind before speaking of “red lines” in August 2012. Obviously he and his National Security team didn’t.
And this is what ultimately changed my mind.
If you can not be a strong, prepared, flexible leader, you have no business drawing lines; making promises; and scheduling attacks when you do not have the backbone for the toughest decisions … actually sending Americans to clean up the World’s ugliest messes.
God help the Syrian people …