Ask ten people to give a definition of leadership and you may get ten different answers. Leadership, for example, has been defined in different ways by respected business thinkers such as Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, and Bill Gates. One definition of leadership, however, that could be widely accepted by the vast majority of people is "a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards achievement of a goal."
Leadership has been virtually non-existent in Washington, DC this year and this becomes most apparent as US moves closer to intervention in the Syrian Civil War due to Syrian government's use of chemical weapons against its own people. President Obama on August 20th of last year said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line" and "change the equation" of America's involvement in the war. He was ready to order an attack as soon as last weekend until he changed his mind at the last minute and announced he would seek Congressional approval for such a strike and not until Congress returned from its summer break next week. It is important to note that Obama said he did not have to seek approval from Congress for intervention.
This risked the potential for a major showdown between the Obama administration and a skeptical Congress. Obama willingly put himself in a must-win situation because a congressional rebuke would mean complete humiliation, particularly after he guaranteed punishment for the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons. Luckily for him, Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor today came to the rescue and publicly backed Obama's call for retaliation. But Boehner then deferred and said Obama would have to lead the effort to win votes in Congress. Obama should still get enough hawkish Republicans and Democrats who do not want to embarrass him to win approval for a strike, but it will not be easy.
Assuming a strike does happen, it remains unclear what the ultimate goal is. Is it to launch cruise missiles for a few days to make clear to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad not to use chemical weapons again? Or is the goal to deal a huge blow to the Syrian military and remove Assad from power? The latter could possibly boost rebel fighters that are linked with Al Qaeda. In addition, no one has explained what U.S. national security interests are at stake in Syria.
Washington's non-existent leadership, particularly from Obama, can only guarantee failure in Syria just like Libya and Egypt. While most of the focus has been on the Egyptian debacle, Libya has quietly become a magnet for Al Qaeda terrorists. Given this, the best thing the U.S. Government could have done is declare neutrality in Syria and let Assad's army and the rebels settle the score amongst themselves. It is not bad leadership to do nothing if only bad options are on the table and this appears to be the case here.
But Uncle Sam continues to bumble along and America will again pay the price.