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4 angriest liberal laments about Obama's Syria policy

September 12, 2013, at 12:15 AM
 

That sound you just heard is a whole warren of bleeding hearts exsanguinating. Every relationship hits a rough patch, but the bond between President Obama and a certain breed of liberal intellectuals — think pragmatic, explanatory, unsure of all the answers themselves — has been unbreakable. Sure, these analysts have criticized Obama in the past, but it was in the spirit of good-natured and helpful chiding. And their assistance in explaining Obama's health care plan better than he could was invaluable in convincing some Democrats to support it. In the wake of the Syria...whatchamacalit, though, Obama's sober pundit allies are having a conniption. Many simply cannot believe what they are hearing. Others think that Obama's words and actions can be blamed on that one character flaw that has occasionally manifested itself in the past but always temporarily and non-consequentially. What that flaw is, of course, is not universally agreed upon. All the pundits below have been generally supportive of President Obama's foreign policy.

1. Time's Joe Klein finds one of the "most stunning and inexplicable displays of presidential incompetence I've ever witnessed." The reason: He relies on his own judgment too much.

The president isn't crass or stupid enough to say it, but I would guess that he is persisting in his public threats of military action because American credibility — and, more precisely, his credibility — really is at stake. But playing the "American credibility" card is a foolish and extremely dangerous game. In my lifetime, more lives, including American lives, have been lost in the pursuit of American credibility than by any legitimate military factor. It was what led Lyndon Johnson to double down in Vietnam. It was what helped propel George W. Bush into pulling the trigger in Iraq, even after it was clear that most of the world and, quietly, the American military thought it would be a disastrous exercise. It was what led Obama deeper into Afghanistan. Make no mistake, Obama has already lost credibility in the world, given his performance of the past few weeks. But American credibility is easily resurrected, given our overwhelming strength, by prudent action the next time a crisis erupts, a clear strategic vision and a rock-steady hand on the wheel. It was resurrected by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The sad thing is that Obama had been rebuilding our international stature after George W. Bush's unilateral thrashing about. He has now damaged his ability to get his way with the Chinese, the Iranians and even the Israelis.

2. The New Republic's Noam Scheiber thinks Obama is simply trying to do what his own policy and moral compass insists is not possible.

...his preferred foreign-policy doctrine is very much a first-order proposition. Which makes it hard not to draw an obvious conclusion: Obama has resorted to non-Syria arguments for intervening in Syria because he can't justify an intervention on its own terms. That was the message his speech blared on Tuesday. And that's why the administration's thinking on Syria has felt muddled from the get-go."

3. The Guardian's Michael Cohen says Obama is being disingenuous.

Uppholding and enforcing the longstanding global norm against chemical weapons — while deterring Bashar al-Assad from using them again against his own people — offers a compelling rationale for even a punitive use of force by the United States against Syria. Tuesday night, Barack Obama made a semblance of that argument, but he lathered it in so much threat-exaggeration and maudlin imagery that it was virtually impossible to take his case for war seriously.

If anything, the fact that Obama was forced to rely on contradictory and deceptive arguments to sell the American people on the idea of military intervention in Syria did more to undermine the case for intervention than reinforce it.

4. Jeffrey Goldberg (Okay, so he's not a bleeding heart, but who says listicles have to be consistent) is all harumphy:

So, in order to obviate an attack on a country that Americans evidently care about not at all, Vladimir Putin, the State Department's new Syria desk officer, working in concert with President Barack Obama and his intermittently slap-happy secretary of state, has come up with a fake solution to a real problem.

Tough stuff. On the other hand, the president's traditional liberal critics are waking up to a whole new president, one they can live with. And Andrew Sullivan, a man who understands what Obama is trying to do as well as anyone in the West Wing, a man who found Obama's threat of military action against Syria to be a "betrayal," found the speech Tuesday night to be "clear, simple and moving."

 

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