In Defense of Barack Obama

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The Internet is ablaze with condescension for President Obama. Many people are expressing their distaste with his handling of the Syrian crisis, involving the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against his own people in a Damascus suburb on August 21st.

First off, Obama was condemned for not getting involved in Syria and his phrasing of the “red line” was mocked across the cyber world. Then he was derided for his decision to involve Congress in the debate, instead of using his moral authority to make a decision. Now, he is apparently a “laughing stock” according to USA Today, the Free Republic and various other sources, for his decision to pursue a diplomatic solution being championed by Russia, putting Vladimir Putin in the spotlight.

Now, I can understand why some people think that the president is meant to be clear and decisive. I guess I can also understand how his reaction to Syria may appear wishy-washy to some. But just because I understand where those reactions come from, does not in any way mean that I agree.

Unlike most voices on the Internet, I am impressed with Obama, especially in light of the recent Russian developments. On the day when he was meant to address the nation, and most pundits believed this would be when he made a formal declaration to attack Syria, Russia offered a different course of action. Colluding with Syrian officials, Russia announced that Syria would be willing to hand over its stores of chemical weapons, have them destroyed and sign the treaty on non-proliferation of chemical weapons. This is a huge development. It is a diplomatic coup for Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin, often seen as a remnant of the Soviet era, now appears the wise statesman. While back in America, President Obama is seen as indecisive and weak.

I would assume that this is exactly what Putin and Assad wanted. To push Obama into an impossible situation, make sure that any action he took would be deemed illegal by the international community (thanks to the Russian veto in the Security Council) and then in the 25th hour propose a diplomatic solution. This all seems very likely to me especially since up until this point, Assad’s government had denied even having chemical weapons.

So, as various news outlets and pundits continue to play into the hands of Putin and make him appear the hero, Obama is ridiculed. And I ask why? Is it for calling on Congress to debate the response of the American government? Or, maybe, for pursuing a diplomatic solution to an otherwise costly and messy intervention? I hope not.

Obama set limits, which admittedly were hard to enforce or to provide enough evidence to warrant action, but showed restraint. He then encouraged a public discourse on the crisis and involved the elected representatives of the people, in a show of true democratic decision-making. And then, relinquished his place as the only world leader with a solution in an attempt to pursue a different path. Isn’t this the exact kind of leadership that democracy aspires to? Involving the people, listening to others and adjusting our views based on new information is the rational, logical, mature approach.

He is being attacked for appearing weak, but strong leadership is not about appearances. It is about making the hard choices despite what it may do to your reputation. It is about due process and pursuing alternatives, from wherever they may appear. Great leaders know that sometimes you have to lead from behind. Obama has been unsatisfying to me in many respects, but in his handling of the current situation, I applaud him.

It is hard to say what will happen in the coming days. Attempting to remove all the chemical weapons from Syria would require an immense effort and the implicit cooperation of Assad. It is reminiscent of when the United Nations sent inspectors to Iraq in the early 90’s to disarm Saddam of his chemical weapons following his massacres of the Kurdish people. He appeared to cooperate, but was in reality wheeling the weapons out the back door as the inspectors entered through the front. There is no way to know whether or not Assad will truly disarm. It seems less likely given that he has requested that the inspection team be Russian and what incentive would the state that is arming him have in disarming him? There are a lot of variables that will need strict oversight for this to be successful but it offers a glimmer of possibility. And in the immortal words of John Lennon, isn’t it time we give peace a chance?

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4 thoughts on “In Defense of Barack Obama

  1. Obama would have loved to attack Syria right away and catch Assad off guard. I’m not going to pretend that I know the private intel of U.S security, but no matter what there is no denying that a surprise attack is more effective then publicly announced an attack while Assad and Maher watch/listen while eating popcorn. Sure the is no way that the U.S will deliver just a ‘pinprick’ attack and yes there are many targets that cannot be moved. But one thing is for sure- chemical weapons can be moved. While House members were busy playing golf and whatever else, U.S security was playing a game of GPS cat and mouse with the Republican Guard. Targets had be constantly tracked and re-adjusted. Undoubtably the U.S has the ability to deal Assad a hurtful blow regardless, but a surprise attack is always best- no worry of human shields.

    There is no certainty that an attack will truly deter the Assad regime. The U.S seems confident that it will, but it is definitely not a guarantee. You can not ask an irrational, exhausted, frustrated, determined, stubborn, merciless, desperate, and possibly scared regime to act rationally. To truly degrade Assad’s ability to deploy chemical weapons the weapons themselves need to be eradicated. Will the U.S’s attacks do this? Definitely not after this delay. Assad has been given enough time to personally dig a hole himself and hide the weapons. However it may also be the case that even a surprise air bombardment by the U.S wouldn’t be able to specifically target Assad’s chemical weapons stash. If the U.S attack did destroy some of Assad’s weapons it would be luck. Luck based on intelligence, probability and odds. But this probability becomes much less likely when Assad has weeks to prepare.

    God forbid the representatives turn Obama’s proposal down. Obama is taking a big chance here by putting his administration at the mercy of the House. If the House denies Obama, Kerry and everyone else will look like fools. Assad, Kim Jong-un, Ruhollah Khomeini, Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas (to name a few) would absolutely love to watch self-righteous America be denied the opportunity to intervene in another war. Not to mention every other human being who has resentment for the U.S and Obama- the latter includes many American citizens. If they are calling him weak and wishy-washy now just imagine if his proposal fails.

    I think Obama’s decision to go to the House is completely unnecessary for a limited and targeted strike with apparently no future intentions for putting boots on the ground. IF Obama and his team decided to launch a full-scale time-consuming and expensive war with boots and the potential for the loss of American lives THEN that’s when congress needs to be notified. In that case it would be nice to give the American people a say via their Representatives. But that’s not the case here.

    Wipe away all the bullshit about America being stronger as a nation and how Obama is both the commander-in-chief and the upholder of the sacred U.S constitution and you find the real truth: Obama is scared of public backlash and wanted to cover his ass. And if Obama decided to act unilaterally there would have been an INCOMPREHENSIBLE amount of backlash. No amount of post-attack explaining could have calmed the public down. Just look at how hard Kerry had to work at the 10 hour Senate hearing to make his case. Look at how much vitriol Obama is receiving currently even after stating his case clearly and concisely countless times. Obama might even be thinking “If I’m taking all this shit anyways I should have skipped all this bullshit and hit Assad straight away.”

    But Obama is overly concerned with his image. The people put their trust in Obama because they trust his judgment. He should therefore make decisive decisions and act without getting on his knees for Congress for a limited strike. Obama should not have let the public compromise his willingness to act. Like I said before, if Obamas intent was to put boots on the ground and engage full-heartedly with Syria then by all means go to congress.

    Now this diplomatic solution has thrown the concept of ‘deter’ out the window. Now any psychopath who wants to use chemical weapons knows that they can use their weapons and only receive a slap on the hand as a consequence. It’s like a child getting his toys taken away after misusing them. If Assad hands over his weapons and ceases to use them again then all of this drama with the House and debates over Obama’s decision has been a waste of time. If Obama truly wanted to solve this problem diplomatically then he should have tried to do so from the get-go. Don’t tell me he tried. I don’t need a history lesson. Screw the U.N. You can’t go to the U.N right away and expect a resolution. Of course Russia is going to veto! You need to constantly meet and talk with leaders outside of the U.N platform, let the smoke settle, let Assad think things over and then come to an agreement. Again, that is if you truly want to solve a problem diplomatically. You can not expect a diplomatic solution to come about the day after chemical weapons are used.

    If this cooperative solution pans out then Obama truly will look, dare I say it again, wishy washy. First he want to launch a limited strike and beg congress to allow him to do so, and now this.

    Now whether or not Obama should launch attacks is another question entirely. By hurting Assad he would prolong the war and cause even more deaths. Assad is not backing down. He feels that he is fighting for Syria and its people. After all, he has thousands of Syrian people supporting his cause. Countless civilians are arming themselves on his behalf and many of these citizens are using themselves as human shields to protect potential U.S targets. Will they show you that on CNN? No. Assad has stated that he could have ended this war a long time ago if the U.S, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia would stop interfering in the war. Turkey is constantly sending what Assad calls terrorists intro Syria. When weakened, these terrorist retreat back into Turkey, regroup/rearm and then re-enter.

    The U.S clearly does not want Assad to win this war. Hence they have been arming the rebels and working with a specific faction/general they see fit to run the country after Assads potential demise. If the U.S had not been involved at all in this war prior to the chemical attacks then it would be salient that their intention was purely to protect that sanctity of the red line. However because they clearly want Assad to fall, one must question their motives. So this diplomatic solution is hard to understand considering the fact that Obama wants Assad gone. A limited attack would help his cause. He needs to forget about satisfying the pacifist American public.

    There is no guarantee that if Assad is ousted that Syria will be a better place. Do you honestly think that Syria will stabilize smoothly and that the new leaders will be ready to create a democracy? Just look at Egypt: throw out Mubarak- elect Morsi- throw out Morsi. Let’s not forget about the thousands of civilian Assad followers. Will they willingly accept new leadership after that leadership is responsible for killing thousands of their people and family members? No. They will turn into another faction of extremists to add to all of the other rebel factions who do not get the throne. This includes Al-Qaeda. Iran and Lebanon will not be pleased.

    At the same time now that Assad has used chemical weapons we definitely can not side with him. However we have no idea what goes on within his regime. His Republican Guard is scattered throughout the country and his brother Maher is in command. Assad may not have been the one to sanction the attack. He could just be a figure head. He may even be extremely pissed off that weapons were used without his consent. Look at all of the trouble their use has caused him. Heads could be rolling within his regime. Either way it is his regime and he is therefore responsible.

    • Wow, thanks for sharing. I agree with most of what you have said. The issue of who will run Syria after the smoke settles is a serious one. The rebels have no central leadership and no single list of demands. It will be incredibly difficult for them to satisfy all of their factions, just like we have seen in Egypt, as you said.

      However, I find it hypocritical of the USA to go after Assad for his use of chemical weapons when they have used Agent Orange and white phosphorus. So have their main ally in the Middle East, Israel (white phosphorus in Gaza). Also, if the issue with chemical weapons is the indiscriminate manner in which they kill people, one could also find a similar argument for the irresponsible way drones have been used.

      I believe that the intervention against Assad would be in part to hurt Iran. Iran has taken a leading role in supporting Assad with fighters from Hezbollah joining his fight. America can’t let Iran win so supporting the rebels would be an easier way to drain Iran of resources without getting directly involved.

      I think Americans are all too aware of the costs of war and are extremely wary of getting sucked in to another decade long battle against an ambiguous enemy. This is why I think Obama is reluctant and working to engage the people before he makes a decision. I don’t think the purpose of democracy is to elect an autocratic ruler who makes judgements based on his own moral authority. I respect Obama for engaging the elected representatives of the American people and I imagine history will remember him for being level headed.

      The time for America to play world police and settle sovereign conflicts needs to come to an end. The American people need the focus of the government. Education, healthcare, gun violence, income inequality, climate change, the economy, the war on drugs, racism, gender inequality, and the NSA should be the focus. Trillions of dollars are being spent for the sake of moral imperialism while the American people are being left behind in global competitiveness.

      Thanks again for sharing and for a fuller look of my take on Syria, check out this piece.

      https://jessesharratt.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/once-upon-an-intervention-the-syrian-story/

  2. Article 1 Section 8 of the US constitution puts war-making authority in the hands of Congress, not in the hands of the Executive branch. However, Mr. Obama’s decision to consult Congress is not why he delayed. He delayed because the American public is opposed to armed intervention in Syria.

    The US is a member of the UN, and the UN has not approved military intervention; if Mr. Obama authorizes a strike then we become an outlaw nation.

    The use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity, and any nation that uses such weapons against any human or against the Earth is a criminal nation. So, what does that mean in the case of my own country using white phosphorous, depleted uranium, agent orange, and napalm?

    Mr. Obama is not showing forbearance; he wants to engage in a “strike” of “limited scope & duration”. They tell us that just 30 or 60 or 90 days would suffice to punish the Assad regime. What would America call it if some other nation initiated air strikes upon our soil for 30 or 60 or 90 days? Would we call it a “strike of limited scope & duration”, or would we call it an act of war?

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