Apologies for another Syria post after this morning’s essay, but sometimes the news gives you no choice. From the Times this morning, we see that the President is still floundering, unwilling or unable to level with himself or the public about just how ugly his self-created Syria predicament has become:
“I didn’t set a red line; the world set a red line,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Stockholm on the first day of a three-day visit to Sweden and Russia, where he will take part in a summit meeting that is likely to be dominated by the war in Syria.
“My credibility’s not on the line,” he said, appealing to lawmakers and foreign leaders to back his plan to retaliate against President Bashar al-Assad. “The international community’s credibility is on the line. And America and Congress’s credibility is on the line.”
President Obama could not be more wrong. It is precisely the President’s credibility as a spokesman for the “international community” (whatever that is) and for US foreign policy that is glaringly and horribly on the line. An effective leader would have consulted with key people in Congress and made sure of his backing before making explicit threats of force. Now the President is twisting lonesomely in the wind, and the question is whether Congress will ride to the rescue. If it doesn’t, it will be the closest thing the American system has to a parliamentary vote of “no confidence”, where Congress explicitly declares to the world that the President of the United States does not speak for the country.
That would be very dangerous. Foreigners will no longer know when and whether to take anything this President says as representing American policy rather than his own editorial opinions. We hate to say it, but that is so dangerous that there’s a strong argument for Congress to back the Syria resolution simply to avoid trashing the credibility of the only President we’ve got.
If Congress declines to support what even proponents of a Syria strike must agree is a massively screwed up policy, then the President will face another choice. He can do a “Clinton” (President Clinton bombed Serbia in the teeth of congressional disapproval), or he can fold like a cheap suit. If he chooses the latter course, Clint Eastwood’s “empty chair” stunt at the 2012 GOP convention will look eerily prophetic. For purposes of foreign policy, the United States will endure something like a presidential vacancy until Mr. Obama is replaced in 2017 or until he finds a way to restore his authority and prestige.
Considered in the abstract, the planned attacks on Syria may or may not be smart. But thanks to this latest round of “smart diplomacy,” if bombs don’t fall on Syria, President Obama will have bombed his own credibility into oblivion.
[Photo courtesy Getty Images.]