March 10th, 2016

Obama and the shaky red line

[Hat tip: commenter “sdferr.”]

I actually have come to the point of such skepticism about the press that I take nearly everything I read there with a grain of salt. But with that caveat, here’s an extremely lengthy article (and this post will only scratch the surface of what’s in there) that describes Obama’s second-term Middle Eastern foreign policy.

The first thing I see is an attempt by writer Jeffrey Goldberg to disassociate potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from what Obama did while she was his Secretary of State, and the second thing I see is how juvenile and simplistic Obama, his advisers, and their motto seem to be:

Obama’s reticence [to intervene in Syria after drawing a red line] frustrated Power and others on his national-security team who had a preference for action. Hillary Clinton, when she was Obama’s secretary of state, argued for an early and assertive response to Assad’s violence. In 2014, after she left office, Clinton told me that “the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad … left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” When The Atlantic published this statement, and also published Clinton’s assessment that “great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Obama became “rip-shit angry,” according to one of his senior advisers. The president did not understand how “Don’t do stupid shit” could be considered a controversial slogan. Ben Rhodes recalls that “the questions we were asking in the White House were ‘Who exactly is in the stupid-shit caucus? Who is pro–stupid shit?’ ” The Iraq invasion, Obama believed, should have taught Democratic interventionists like Clinton, who had voted for its authorization, the dangers of doing stupid shit. (Clinton quickly apologized to Obama for her comments, and a Clinton spokesman announced that the two would “hug it out” on Martha’s Vineyard when they crossed paths there later.)

Later on, Goldberg also seems to be trying to rehabilitate Biden, too, from his association with Obama.

Here’s what happened when Obama changed his mind and decided not to intervene:

…[T]he president told his national-security aides that he planned to stand down. There would be no attack the next day; he wanted to refer the matter to Congress for a vote. Aides in the room were shocked. Susan Rice, now Obama’s national-security adviser, argued that the damage to America’s credibility would be serious and lasting. Others had difficulty fathoming how the president could reverse himself the day before a planned strike. Obama, however, was completely calm. “If you’ve been around him, you know when he’s ambivalent about something, when it’s a 51–49 decision,” Ben Rhodes told me. “But he was completely at ease.”

Not long ago, I asked Obama to describe his thinking on that day. He listed the practical worries that had preoccupied him. “We had UN inspectors on the ground who were completing their work, and we could not risk taking a shot while they were there. A second major factor was the failure of Cameron to obtain the consent of his parliament.”

The third, and most important, factor, he told me, was “our assessment that while we could inflict some damage on Assad, we could not, through a missile strike, eliminate the chemical weapons themselves, and what I would then face was the prospect of Assad having survived the strike and claiming he had successfully defied the United States, that the United States had acted unlawfully in the absence of a UN mandate, and that that would have potentially strengthened his hand rather than weakened it.”

The fourth factor, he said, was of deeper philosophical importance. “This falls in the category of something that I had been brooding on for some time,” he said. “I had come into office with the strong belief that the scope of executive power in national-security issues is very broad, but not limitless.”

Obama knew his decision not to bomb Syria would likely upset America’s allies. It did. The prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, told me that his government was already worried about the consequences of earlier inaction in Syria when word came of the stand-down. “By not intervening early, we have created a monster,” Valls told me. “We were absolutely certain that the U.S. administration would say yes. Working with the Americans, we had already seen the targets. It was a great surprise. If we had bombed as was planned, I think things would be different today.” The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who was already upset with Obama for “abandoning” Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt, fumed to American visitors that the U.S. was led by an “untrustworthy” president. The king of Jordan, Abdullah II—already dismayed by what he saw as Obama’s illogical desire to distance the U.S. from its traditional Sunni Arab allies and create a new alliance with Iran, Assad’s Shia sponsor—complained privately, “I think I believe in American power more than Obama does.”

There’s much much more.

My own analysis of what happened is a bit different. I think that Obama never meant what he said when he drew that red line, because I think that he is constitutionally (in the personal, and not the Constitutional, sense) incapable of acting in an aggressive military manner with any real force. It goes against his entire approach to foreign policy, which is that he is the withdrawal president. He is here to decrease our military involvement, not to increase it. Bombings must be antiseptic and have almost no chance of collateral damage (or any real success), with the single exception of drone attacks on a terrorist here and there. It is perfectly okay to betray allies; he’s done it many times before. Maybe it’s even good; after all, they shouldn’t rely on us.

What he hadn’t done before was to draw a red line, and my guess is that almost as soon as it was drawn he regretted it and was looking for an out. He found one.

In addition, the king of Jordan was spot on: Obama does not believe in American power, or in using it. Obama is also determined to make sure that, as a result of his presidency, the American people and the world don’t believe in it, either.

19 Responses to “Obama and the shaky red line”

  1. JurassiCon Rex Says:

    Bill Odom, a three-star general presiding over R. Reagan’s NSA, characterized the American Iraq adventure as “the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history.” Nothing, not one good thing came of it. And Iraq wasn’t where empires went to get taught a lesson in hubris – that was Afghanistan. The U.S. destabilized the area and all for regime change and one stab at purple finger democracy. And the dominoes in that entire region have been falling ever since. Recall that prior to Iraq/Afghanistan there was 10 miserable years of losing South Vietnam. So for all the wrong reasons, thank you Mr. President for disengaging, for the most part, the US from neocon neoAmerican wars for regime change. And had he, Obama, gone through with it all in Syria, it would have ended ten times the disaster it is now. As Ms Clinton demonstrated for everyone in Libya, no-one can tell shit from shinola or a rebel from a radical. US out of the Mideast! Not out of any principle… other than we have no idea what the hell to do, how to do it, and when to call it a day.

    We are, after all, dealing with Islam and Moslems. And the adherents make the inscrutable Chinese look an open book.

  2. Barry Meislin Says:

    “I think that Obama never meant what he said when he drew that red line, because I think that he is constitutionally (in the personal, and not the Constitutional, sense) incapable of acting in an aggressive military manner with any real force.”

    Um, you’re trying just a bit too hard, here.

    Understandably so.

    Since you’re trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.

    “Obama never meant what he said” simply because Obama never means what he says.

    Because Obama is incapable of telling the truth.

    Because Obama’s destructive goals are not compatible with telling the truth.

    Anyone who continues to try to rationalize the Obama “conundrum” simply does not understand what is going on. Doesn’t understand the depths of Obama’s malevalence. Doesn’t understand the lengths that Obama plans to go in order to do as much damage as possible to those institutions and countries his ideology fervently believes should be cut down to size. Or destroyed.

    And probably doesn’t understand the promise Obama has made (either verbally or silently) to ensure that the America and America’s purported once-upon-a-time allies—most of all, Israel—should be shredded and that a State of Palestine, committed to Israel’s destruction, should be created.

    No, they cannot understand.

    And, again, understandably so: because it sounds insane; it sounds wicked; it sounds impossible; it smacks of conspiracy theory.

    Indeed. Who ever would have thought that the President of the United States would ever harbor a desire to raze the place to the ground? (Though they make movies of that, don’t they?….)

    And so, people try just a bit too hard to rationalize what is impossible to understand.

    Understandably so….

    File under: Occam’s razer.

  3. Cornhead Says:

    The fact that “Don’t do stupid shit” became known to the public and that it was Obama’s motto kind of sums up the Ivy League arrogance of this crowd. Hey, we are smarter than Bush and we brag to our friends in the MSM.

    When Iran tests its nuke this year, how STUPID will Obama look?

  4. JohnGalt47 Says:

    The withdrawal method leads to disastrous consequences.

  5. Ann Says:

    So depressing to read all that and to know that right now his job approval is at the highest point in three years:

    “Fifty percent approve of Obama’s performance as chief executive, according to Gallup’s most recent weekly survey, released Thursday.

    Obama’s job approval rating ticked up 5 points since the beginning of the year. It’s also 3 points higher than the average of his weekly ratings for his seventh year in office, Gallup added.”

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    Barry Meislin:

    If you’ve read my posts on Obama over the years, I’m not trying to excuse anything he says or does.

    He certainly lies a lot, as well. Not every time he moves his mouth, but a great deal.

    I don’t feel he’s a conundrum, either, at this point, and I’ve written over 1500 posts on the subject.

  7. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “the king of Jordan was spot on: Obama does not believe in American power, or in using it. Obama is also determined to make sure that, as a result of his presidency, the American people and the world don’t believe in it, either.” neo

    Would that it were only that. Certainly Obama seeks to undermine and even destroy faith in America’s might. Yet Obama’s malign design extends far beyond that. To the maximum extent achievable, Obama has and is using his power to destroy our military’s faith in the decency and rightness of their mission”.

    Judicial Watch: Documents Reveal US Army Indoctrinated Soldiers on Dangers of ‘White Privilege’

    “The slideshow also informed the soldiers: “Race privilege gives whites little reason to pay a lot of attention to African Americans.” It alleged that there are unspecified “powerful forces everywhere” keeping different kinds of people from being valued, accepted, and appreciated, but “we act as if it doesn’t exist.” This alleged privilege creates a “yawning divide” in income, wealth, and dignity.”

    The Marxist/Progressive’s “March Through the Institutions” is now well entrenched within our military.

    Our future young soldiers are being prepped; “FBI INSTRUCTS HIGH SCHOOLS TO INFORM ON “ANTI-GOVERNMENT” STUDENTS”

    “Constitutionalists figure prominently on the target list”…

    “A new FBI initiative based on Britain’s “anti-terror” mass surveillance program instructs high schools across America to inform on students who express “anti-government” and “anarchist” political beliefs.

    It calls for “observing and assessing concerning behaviors and communications” of students “embracing extremist ideologies.”

    In addition to “designated foreign terrorist organizations,” the FBI program targets “domestic violent extremism movements,” including anti-government groups.

    The FBI and federal and local law enforcement groups categorize many libertarian, constitutionalist and other groups and individuals as “sovereign citizens.”

    According to an FBI counterterrorism analysis, sovereign citizens “may refer to themselves as ‘constitutionalists’ or ‘freemen,’ which is not necessarily a connection to a specific group, but, rather, an indication that they are free from government control.”

    The FBI considers the Redemption Theory (the abandonment of the gold standard in favor of fiat currency), emancipation “from the responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen, including paying taxes,” and “conspiracy theories,” including [speculation as to] the formation of global government and a police state, as indicators of extremist or sovereign citizen ideology.

    A National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) report produced by the Office of University Programs, Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security in 2014 lists sovereign citizens as the primary domestic terror threat in the United States, followed by Islamic jihadists, “militia/patriot” and “extreme anti-tax” groups.”

    So now, many on this blog in declaring themselves to be libertarian or a constitutionalist are considered by the FBI to be potentially part of a ‘domestic violent extremist movement’.

    It’s already started, the two Oregon ranchers sentenced to five years in federal prison under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 for starting a fire on their own land, that impinged slightly on federal land, which the ranchers put out themselves.

    They have been made ‘an example of’ , this despite the ranchers having called the BLM and gotten permission to make the burn. They were set up by the feds to intimidate ranchers across the West whose use of public lands is disapproved of by the environmental special interest groups that control the BLM. And to drive the message home, the feds murdered Lavoy Finicum, who was protesting the blatant injustice in imprisoning the Oregon ranchers.

  8. Mrs Whatsit in Grammar Grump Mode Says:

    Why why why WHY don’t people know the difference between the words “reticence” and “reluctance”? I’m suspicious of the mental prowess of any writer who can’t manage to understand that they aren’t synonyms. Hmph.

  9. Richard Saunders Says:

    JurassiCon Rex — good thing we never tired that neocon regime change stuff in Germany, Japan, Italy, or Korea! Think what a disaster that would have been!

  10. JurassiCon Rex Says:

    Richard Saunders,

    You are aware the Japanese attacked us, yes? That Germany declared war on us, yes? That Korea was a draw and present day North Korea exists because South Korea had no incentive to look to their own defense but depended on and still depends on the US to stand up to an axis of evil. Sixty-five years and counting. Humans don’t let their flesh and blood children sponge that long.

  11. KLSmith Says:

    315 more days of this POtuS.

  12. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Mrs Whatsit in Grammar Grump Mode,

    Once “ain’t” was validated by inclusion in the dictionary, the decline became unstoppable.

    JurassiCon Rex,

    Sooner or later, the dominoes in that region were doomed to collapse. Islam’s Imams and Mullahs sense that their 7th century ideology cannot withstand another century of cultural intrusion from the modern world. That is the source of their aggression, along with of course Islam’s theological imperatives to achieve world domination.

    The erroneous neocon foundational premise that a universal desire for self-autonomy superseded cultural and religious imperatives doomed their effort in the M.E.

    Imagining that the option ever existed to just leave the area to itself and that, then they will leave us alone is an equally flawed premise.

    Islam is a cancer, sooner or later either it will have to be cut out and banished into a permanent quarantine or the Three Conjectures will manifest.

  13. JurassiCon Rex Says:

    Geoffrey Britain,

    Agreed, though I hardly expect ‘them’ to leave us alone after we’d invited them into the country. By opening one Pandora’s box we’ve opened them all. Now we find we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I, and I expect those who would be shot and/or blown to smithereens, would rather we don’t – and looked first to our own country and people. Prudence is not a vice.

  14. Eric Says:

    Answer to “Was Operation Iraqi Freedom a strategic blunder or a strategic victory?”;
    Answer to “Why did Bush leave the ‘containment’ (status quo)?”.

    Recommendation: How to talk about your Iraq vote (advice to Hillary Clinton).

  15. Eric Says:

    Richard Saunders,

    Answer to “Did Iraq failing its compliance test justify the regime change?”.

    On foreign affairs, the Paul faction is arm in arm with the Left with virtually indistinguishable form albeit offset rationale.

    Neo’s post on the Goldberg article goes to the forward relevance of setting the record straight on OIF at the premise level of the political discourse.

    The Iraq intervention is not dusty history. The fundamental principles of American leadership of the free world manifested with the Iraq intervention so that stigmatizing the mission has discredited the paradigm. Yet the prevailing narrative of OIF is demonstrably false.

    A plainly false narrative that is easily exposed by primary sources that are easily found on-line is yet somehow a course-setting, cornerstone premise in our political discourse and a linchpin operative element in our foreign policy – with big compounding consequences at home and abroad.

    What’s past is prologue. Setting the record straight looking back is about correcting orientation to lay a proper course ahead.

  16. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    Re: “Was Operation Iraqi Freedom a strategic blunder or a strategic victory?”

    I perused your link and can’t agree. Iraq, even had Obama ‘stayed the course’ and backed Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” never would have been another South Korea, Japan or Germany.

    So too with Afghanistan.

    A secular democracy cannot be implanted into a non-supportive environment, such that it becomes self-sustaining. Not when that environment consists of a hostile cultural and religious make-up.

    As long as Muslims embrace Islam, they embrace an ideology fundamentally inimical to secular democracies. Someone cannot in principle, embrace Allah’s edicts, while simultaneously supporting the “unalienable right” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

    A woman cannot be pregnant but not pregnant.

    The entire Bush strategy in “winning hearts and minds” for the support of a secular democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan was predicated upon the premise that, all human beings possess a universal aspiration for self-determination which supersedes cultural and religious imperatives. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have disproved that thesis.

    That is the non-legal reason why invading Iraq was ultimately doomed to failure. Islam ensures that Muslim societies will either be a theocracy or a dictatorship.

  17. Richard Saunders Says:

    Geoffrey Britain: just not so. People said the same thing about Japan in 1945, that it would be impossible to change their medieval mindset. Well, it wasn’t. An American Military Government in Iraq, as there was in Germany and Japan, Americans in charge of maintaining order, retraining the Iraqi military, and supervising the education system and the Imams, could have worked well. and with 100,000 – 150,000 US troops parked there, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Yemen, and the Gulf States would be vastly different, and better, places today.

  18. sdferr Says:

    Kyle Orton: Barack Obama Comes Clean

  19. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Richard Saunders,

    Wishing does not make it so. Japan had no viable competing ideology. Shintoism is entirely different than Islam and Japan’s Bushido culture was mainly limited to the military. In addition, Japan has a ‘submit to greater power’ culture.

    Essentially permanent deployment of 100,000 – 150,000 US troops would in time amount to America propping up the favored regime. It would have meant prohibiting religious partys because any Islamic party that came to power would quickly end democracy. That had we stayed in Iraq things would have been different is not in dispute.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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