THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT'S CONUNDRUM OVER SYRIA: 'TOO CLEVER BY HALF'?
"The Colonial Secretary [Iain Macleod] has been too clever by half. I believe that he is a very fine bridge player. It is not considered immoral, or even bad form, to outwit one's opponent at bridge. It almost seems to me as if the Colonial Secretary, when he abandoned the sphere of bridge for the sphere of politics, brought his bridge technique with him".The Fifth Marquess of Salisbury, Hansard 5L, 229.307, 7 March 1961.
"Designed as a call to arms, Barack Obama’s nationally televised address about the need to strike against Syria had turned into a plea for diplomacy by the time he strode to the podium at the White House on Tuesday evening. Caught between demanding military action and pushing talks at the same time as he is struggling to impose his authority both in Washington and overseas, Mr Obama and his presidency seemed as stranded as his Syria policy by the speech’s close. Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, said that Mr Obama’s wavering about whether to take military action against Syria will have a big impact on the credibility of US foreign policy. “US allies are going to be concerned about the commitments America has made to them,” he said. In his Tuesday night speech, Mr Obama attempted to weave between showing resolve and promising to avoid another Middle East quagmire. He insisted that the “United States military does not do pinpricks” and warned that “failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would . . . embolden Assad’s ally Iran”. But he also claimed that any military action would be a “limited strike”. “I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force,” he said. “We learnt from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next.” The military would retain is current posture of being prepared to launch air strikes, but for the time-being the US would “pursue this diplomatic path”. Ever since he announced in St Petersburg on the sidelines of the G20 meeting last week that he would rally the nation on Syria, Mr Obama has been undermined by the rapidly shifting political landscape at home and abroad. Support in Congress for a Syria strike began to evaporate among Republicans and Democrats, and Russia threw the president’s plans further off course by injecting an unexpected diplomatic initiative into the equation, to secure the Arab nation’s chemical weapons. At a moment when Mr Obama’s power is already reaching the point of inevitable decline that any second-term president faces, the danger is that his inability to execute a coherent and effective Syria policy will undermine his authority across the board. An apparent chemical attack by the regime of Bashar al-Assad on a Damascus suburb has shifted opinion in the west towards possible military intervention Mr Obama’s much-touted pivot to Asia in foreign policy has again been overwhelmed by upheaval in the Middle East, where Washington’s leverage has been diminishing since the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. The need for day-to-day crisis management of the Middle East could have substantial repercussions for Asia policy, at a time when China was expanding its naval power in the Asia-Pacific, according to Mr Bremmer. While Japan was firmly committed to its alliance with the US, other allies such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore could “start to hedge and to shore up their long-term relations with China because of what they have seen over the last few days”'.Richard McGregor & Geoff Dyer, "Dilemma over Syria policy threatens to undermine Barack Obama." The Financial Times. 11 September 2013, in www.ft.com. I am of two minds of the current mess or should one employ the mot 'impasse' that the American President has brought upon himself. On the one hand: insofar as the political and diplomatic chicanery that he has weaved has prevented the Americans and their allies from uselessly bombing Syria, for no strategic or other purposes whatsoever, that is I believe all to the good. On the other: hand, the manner in which we have arrived at the current state of affairs cannot but give one pause. To employ the term 'maladroit' seems about correct when describing the pass that American diplomacy has come to. It is as if, Sheridan's Mrs. Malaprop had come to life and was directing American foreign policy from the inner sanctums of the National Security Council. To add insult to injury is the air of triumph that the egregious Grazhdanin Putin has assumed in the last week 1. Au fond the true explanation of this entire state of affairs is that the now infamous 'red line' over Syria's possible use of chemical weapons was nothing more than a confidence trick, pur et simple by the American President. It was never meant to be taken seriously much less actually acted upon. In retrospect it is a truism that this supposedly supremely intelligent man has been found to have been (in the immortal mots of Lord Salisbury) 'too clever by half'. 1. Charles Clover, "Russia’s Vladimir Putin plays to strengths on foreign policy." The Financial Times. 12 September 2012, in www.ft.com.