How did we get where we are on Syria? With Assad surging on the battlefield, with moderates increasingly eclipsed by al-Qaeda radicals within rebel ranks, and with an ill-specified peace plan continually failing to take shape, the New York Times provides a sobering and damning account of the White House’s decision-making process over the past few years. A taste:
Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.
We note that virtually all of the sources for this story have to be members of the President’s close official circle. This is the story that his friends are telling. You really ought to read the whole thing.
We can only hope that this story’s facts are incomplete, because the picture of presidential decision-making and the dire consequences of failures of leadership for American policy portrayed here are appalling. The calm words and the careful reconstruction of events in this NYT story fulfill the worst fears of those who have been criticizing US Syria policy.
Unfortunately this story will also go far toward confirming the convictions of many leaders overseas that the current President of the United States is not up to the job. Our adversaries will be tempted to take bolder steps and our friends will be disheartened.
If the story were about a conservative GOP President, one suspects the Times editors would have used stronger language and done much more to bang readers over the head with the clear inference that the man in the Oval Office engineered what the story calls a worst case scenario in Syria (maximum bloodbath, maximum danger of al-Qaeda gains, maximum chance of ugly Assad survival, maximum chance of Iranian victory, maximum danger for Jordan, maximum damage to prestige, interests and alliances of the United States) through a mix of empty and unrestrained rhetoric, awkward flip flops and half measures.
A first term President still coming up the learning curve could be more easily excused after this kind of performance. At this point, if the Times in fact has the full story here, Americans and those who value a peaceful, stable world system are left to hope that President Obama, frustrated and appalled by the consequences of his choices on Syria policy, will learn from past mistakes.
And we should also hope for some lucky breaks.