The New York Times suggests this morning that the White House is taking another look at whether to arm the Syrian rebel groups. The trouble is, all the choices are uglier now than they were when the president overruled his top national security officials to block this kind of aid last year. The good guys are weaker, the bad guys are worse, and America has less influence over anybody in Syria as a result of the delay.
It’s a bad week at the Gray Lady for discussions of administration foreign policy. Elsewhere in today’s paper, Roger Cohen sides with Vali Nasr’s sharp criticism of an administration he sees as sacrificing the national interest overseas to short term domestic politics at home and as needlessly contributing to American decline through weakness.
With the election safely over, the foreign policy establishment is taking a long hard look at the administration’s policy mix overseas and the chorus of critics is growing.
The pendulum shouldn’t swing too far; as we’ve noted before, American foreign policy is hard and there is an unspoken assumption behind a lot of the criticism of any administration that the ‘right’ answer is a simple no-brainer and only cretinism or cowardice could explain the failure of the president, any president, to do what the armchair strategist and the backseat driver claim is the right thing.
That said, the signs are growing that this administration needs some midcourse corrections, and that things are not going well in Syria, North Africa and a number of other hot spots. If a Republican president had done what President Obama had done in Afghanistan—run for office promising to win it, dithered over a strategy for months before announcing a surge that was less than his generals wanted but with a deadline they thought was a bad idea, then watched the strategy fail without taking responsibility or explaining why the “war of necessity” had turned into something else, the press would have been all over him. But the election is over, and both the press and the foreign policy establishment is going to be taking a more realistic look at what’s going on overseas.
Some of the criticism the president is going to get is unfair, and where (as in the pivot to Asia) we think he’s on the right track we are glad to support him. But the White House needs to prepare itself for much greater scrutiny now, partly because the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party is prepping for 2016, and now that no Clintons are involved in the administration’s foreign policy, in the press and elsewhere, a number of centrist Democrats are going to express their growing qualms. Add to that the voices on the left who want to push the administration hard on issues like drone strikes, Guantanamo and the prosecution of Bush era officials, and the MSM is likely to offer much more varied commentary on American foreign policy during the president’s second term that it did in his first.