The pundits are certain: President Obama is a weak, vacillating non-leader.
Kathleen Parker, referring specifically to Syrian policy but drawing wider implications, says Obama has been “an over-thinker so afraid of making the wrong decision that he paralyzes himself into a pose of ineptitude.”
Maureen Dowd has used her pulpit on the editorial pages of The New York Times to excoriate the president for alleged ineptitude. “Amateur hour started when Obama dithered on Syria and failed to explain the stakes there,” Dowd writes in her latest criticism of the president. She frequently inveighs against “Barry” (she’s fond of using the nickname when pillorying him) for weakness and indecisiveness. “Unfortunately, he still has not learned how to govern,” Dowd opined after the defeat of gun legislation, failing to recognize the supineness of Congress and the power of the gun lobby.
An indecisive president? Has anyone asked Osama bin Laden’s opinion?
Wait! He can’t be reached these days because President Obama, against the wavering advise of key aides, boldly decided to send Navy SEALs into the terrorist leader’s compound in a successful raid that killed bin Laden.
Or try asking the Somali pirates who died in the successful rescue of an American cargo captain in the Indian Ocean, an operation ordered by President Obama just three months into his first term.
There’s an old saying attributed to Otto von Bismarck: Laws are like sausages, it’s better not to seem them being made.
The same might be said about the administration’s Syrian policy, which from the outside has appeared messy and incoherent. In truth, Obama has had little room to maneuver on Syria, a situation which has governed much of his presidency.
The president was right to threaten military retaliation when the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its citizens in a horrific and brutal attack in late August. He believed he had at least a veneer of international support for a missile strike, which vanished when the British House of Commons voted against cooperating with Washington and the Arab League refused to endorse U.S. action. Acting under the auspices of the United Nations, always preferable, proved impossible because of likely Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council.
Obama then sought congressional approval to blunt rising domestic opposition to a unilateral American attack. Though many in both parties praised the president for seeking a mandate from Congress, many of the same representatives and senators intended to vote against a unilateral strike.
Now there is an apparent U.S.-Russian diplomatic agreement to a previously intractable problem: Getting Syria to surrender its chemical arsenal. Finding all of Assad’s poison gas stockpile, securing it, and then destroying it during a civil war may yet prove difficult. But diplomacy has achieved one important victory so far: Damascus’s agreement to destroy weapons it previously denied possessing.
How did this happen? Because weak, indecisive Barack Obama, who is often accused of leading from behind, expressed moral outrage at the use of chemical weapons, banned by international consensus for nearly a century, and threatened to retaliate against a despotic tyrant for gassing his own people.
Perhaps he’s not weak, just wily.