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Obama Hits Sour Spot on Syria

Once again President Obama has found the sour spot in his foreign policy—this time on Syria. Already pilloried by the left and right for his garbled strategy, Obama is now drawing the ire of the center as well. Following Leon Panetta’s admission last week that the President overruled his national security team’s wish to arm the rebels, the FT is calling Obama out:

Mr Panetta’s admission is embarrassing because it exposes divisions within a famously disciplined national security team and because of the vague hint of electoral politics—the decision to veto the plan was taken during the presidential campaign.

But the real problem for the White House is that Mr Panetta has drawn attention to the fact that the administration’s strategy for the Syrian civil war is in tatters. The war is intensifying, the humanitarian disaster growing and the regional consequences expanding. Yet most of the reasons that the US has given for not becoming more involved have become irrelevant.

As the FT points out, President Obama wants it both ways: he’s demanded Assad step down and called preventing genocide “a core national-security interest,” but promised in his second inaugural that “a decade of war is now ending.” He’s also threatened war with Syria if chemical weapons are used and proclaimed a “responsibility to protect,” but seeks to slash defense spending, might withdraw a U.S. carrier from the Gulf, and vetoed his cabinet’s recommendations on Syria.

The problem is not that the President is turning his back on Syria; there’s certainly a case that one could make for such a policy. The problem is that the President has neglected to make a case at all. He’s been content to make certain rhetorical promises while pursuing contradictory lines of policy. This is not only insincere to the American people, it is an extremely dangerous strategy: Iran, Assad, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel might no longer know what to expect from the U.S., or believe anything its Commander in Chief says. When one of the region’s most powerful actors projects that kind of weakness, it’s a game changer.

The emperor’s new clothes are beginning to attract hostile comment from all sides of the political spectrum. This could be a long second term.

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