He doesn’t seem to understand how serious it would be for the president’s Syria policy to be repudiated by Congress. Quoting Ezra Klein he tells us that foreigners will still know that the US would respond to attacks on our embassies and troops. While true, this is not very important. The Iranians might well, for example, believe that the US would not intervene effectively against a nuclear program that brushes up against red lines.
More to the point, most of what happens in foreign policy has nothing to do with threats—thank goodness. But that doesn’t mean that credibility isn’t important. Here’s one: in any negotiation with between the Palestinians and the Israelis, part of what the US will need to do is put some financial sweeteners on the table for the Palestinians—aid, compensation for refugees, whatever. The problem will be that these are empty promises unless Congress backs them up. Palestinians aren’t stupid; they know that foreign aid and especially aid for Palestinians isn’t exactly the most popular cause in the US. They will look at a president who’s just been repudiated in the most humiliating and direct way and ask themselves whether he can persuade Congress to pay up. They are likely to conclude that he can’t, and therefore will see the negotiations as a charade.
That’s just one example. Our Asian allies are being asked to bet the farm on whether the “pivot to Asia” will be real and whether it will last. Can President Obama push military appropriations through Congress? Can they assume that the next administration will follow through on commitments he makes?
In trade negotiations, counterparts are going to be asking themselves whether the Obama administration has what it takes to get these agreements through a GOP House (and, possibly, a GOP Senate in 2014). The lack of grip that they currently see on his own party much less the opposition suggests that he may well fail.
The vote on Syria will be a vote of confidence in President Obama’s leadership, and it will be seen around the world as a crucial test of his standing and power as President of the United States. There are good reasons to vote against what appears to be a classic example of inept military action in Syria, but to think that this vote won’t have serious consequences for President Obama’s ability to conduct the nation’s business is to stick your head in the sand.
[Photo courtesy Getty Images.]