Image 01 Image 03

Obama’s Syria policy lost in legalisms

Obama’s Syria policy lost in legalisms

Mideast Media Sampler 10/24/2013 – When Legalisms Become an Excuse for Inaction

Yesterday’s New York Times featured an article Obama’s Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed that is probably one of the most devastating indictments of the President’s Syria policy published. I don’t think that the reporters set out to critique the President and the tone of the article was always respectful.

Still there are two description that really stuck out. The first was a general critique.

As one former senior White House official put it, “We spent so much damn time navel gazing, and that’s the tragedy of it.”

Over the past two years the article describes the various rationales the administration had for not intervening and that sentence turns out to be a very apt theme for the way the administration acted, or, more precisely, chose not to act.

Then there was this:

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.

One would have assumed that a Syria policy was one of the two most important foreign policy issues facing the President. (The other is the question of Iran’s nuclear policy.) Being “disengaged” during such momentous discussions is worse than being engaged but making bad decisions.


One of the themes that emerges from the article is that the President was greatly influenced by Denis McDonough. McDonough’s instincts were not to intervene. (It was McDonough who convinced the President not to order an attack on Syria even once his “red line” of chemical weapons use had been crossed.)

Another is that the President was bound by legal concerns. For example (emphasis added):

But debate had shifted from whether to arm Syrian rebels to how to do it. Discussions about putting the Pentagon in charge of the program — and publicly acknowledging the arming and training program — were eventually shelved when it was decided that too many legal hurdles stood in the way of the United States’ openly supporting the overthrow of a sovereign government.

I don’t know that it was legalisms that discouraged the administration from acting, or if they were a convenient pretext for the President’s preference for not intervening. (Similarly, I don’t know how much McDonough influenced the President and how much he simply reinforced the President’s own distaste for intervention.) Still it put the administration at a disadvantage by making decisions that were guided by “legal hurdles” when the regime it was responding too cared nothing for such niceties.

I don’t know that Fouad Ajami read the New York Times, but his indictment of the administration in A Lawyer Lost in a Region of Thugs would have been a great title. (Google search terms.) Ajami focused on Iran not on Syria, but still Syria played a role in his critique.

In a lawyerly way, the Obama administration has isolated the nuclear issue from the broader context of Iran’s behavior in the region. A new dawn in the history of the theocracy has been proclaimed, but we will ultimately discover that Iran’s rulers are hellbent on pursuing a nuclear-weapons program while trying to rid themselves of economic sanctions.

True, the sanctions have had their own power, but they haven’t stopped Iran from aiding the murderous Assad regime in Syria, or subsidizing Hezbollah in Beirut. And they will not dissuade this regime from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. In dictatorial regimes, the pain of sanctions is passed onto the underclass and the vulnerable.

Just as he has with Iran, President Obama now takes a lawyerly approach to Syria, isolating Assad’s use of chemical weapons from his slaughter of his own people by more conventional means. The president’s fecklessness regarding Syria—the weakness displayed when he disregarded his own “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons—was a gift to the Iranian regime. The mullahs now know that their nuclear program, a quarter-century in the making, will not have to be surrendered in any set of negotiations. No American demand will be backed by force or even by force of will.

The President’s ongoing inaction regarding Syria not only encouraged Assad, but reassured Iran too, that it has nothing to fear from this administration.

[Photo: Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons]


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


In unusually blunt public remarks, Prince Turki al-Faisal called Obama’s policies in Syria ‘lamentable’ and ridiculed a U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons. He suggested it was a ruse to let Obama avoid military action in Syria.

‘The current charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his people,’ said Prince Turki, a member of the Saudi royal family and former director of Saudi intelligence.

Wow. Who coulda seen that coming…???

(Everybody with a brain)

Undoubtedly a new twist on voting “Present”.

Doug Wright Old Grouchy | October 24, 2013 at 10:28 am

On January 19, 2017, the day before a Non-Democrat Partei, and hopefully also a non-Socialist, person takes office as the 45th president, Obama will issue his final condemnation of “W’s” continued efforts to hinder Obama from radically transforming our country, and also sign another executive order banning aid to enemies of his Syrian policy for the next 25-years.

Obama’s Syria policy?

Oh please, the country has been drowning in legalisms for generations (with all due respect, Professor).

“I don’t know that it was legalisms that discouraged the administration from acting, or if they were a convenient pretext for the President’s preference for not intervening. ”

Me, either. This administration has shown no concern whatsoever about fundamental legal principles such as jurisdiction and precedent, so I don’t know what “legalisms” exist that might restrain it.

“President Obama now takes a lawyerly approach to Syria, isolating Assad’s use of chemical weapons from his slaughter of his own people by more conventional means.”

I am unimpressed by the use of the word “lawyerly” in this sentence. It is of course a euphemism: the word “Sophist’s” comes to mind. Obama may not know the meaning of that term, but one would assume most lawyers and educated laymen do so.

    creeper in reply to Valerie. | October 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Obama shows no respect for OUR laws. International law is another story. He’ll happily abide by them until he attains the UN Secretary/General’s position. Then it will be “Katy bar the door.”

    The rest of the world is laughing at us for having to put up with this clown. They won’t be laughing when he’s destroying THEIR lives.

Phillep Harding | October 24, 2013 at 11:29 am

@Valerie, an M. mephitis does not know that he is one, but does not smell the better for it.

From the linked NYT article: “Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, spoke up by videophone, warning that arming the rebels would draw the United States into a murky conflict that could consume the agenda of the president’s second term and would probably make little difference on the chaotic battlefield.”

Free translation: “This is gonna get in the way of our fundraising!”

Obama’s personal style is one of disengagement and boredom. Don’t you know he is smarter than everyone in the room and can do their job better than they could do? The Jug Eared Jesus does not lower himself to pay attention to such nonsense. He concentrates on important things like his back swing and his NCAA brackets.

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to Trooper York. | October 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    The Chicago Jesus is out of his element. His previous “Community Organizer Experience” is analogous to Putt-Putt Golf, while the needs of being The Leader of the Free World is like playing August National in the rain, with a 40-knot wind with a 100-pound backpack while wearing snowshoes.

    And this is the guy who can’t pronounce corpsman and gives the Queen of England a boxed CD set and a Pez dispenser as an official State gift.

    Ragspierre in reply to Trooper York. | October 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Well, there is this…

    As the PowerLine blog points out, Kerry/Obama have managed to bring Arabs and Israelis into an accord…

    “Obama is stupidly empowering Iran”.

    Heckuva job, Barracula…!!!

Smart people are never bored! The spoiled brat three year old wearing an adult suit is NOT up for this job. He’s too insecure to allow anyone to educate him on anything. He’s too high and mighty to admit that he can’t know everything. In essence, these meetings are a waste of his precious time. The minions are the ones who need to tidy up the world so he can take the credit.

Obama’s paralysis of not dealing with Syria and his indifference towards Iran has hurt our relationship with Saudi Arabia. I don’t love the Saudis but they do help stabilize the middle-east and their money is good.

Obama’s BlackBerry preoccupation: “What would Valerie Jarrett do?

Obama’s Syria Policy is the same as his Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Saudi, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran policy – support Muslim Brotherhood aka Al Queda aka Syrian Rebels aka enemies of the USA.

    TrooperJohnSmith in reply to Uncle Samuel. | October 24, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Meanwhile, he seeks to destroy the Republican Party, make the Tea Party enemies of the state, spy on Americans and DMV-ify the best healthcare system on Earth.

If President Obama is “the smartest one in the room,” that doesn’t say much for the room.

Poor old bored petulent little Obama. If only he could make all those mean people in the Middle East fawn all over him for being Black and thus prove they’re not racist. Why it almost seems that they don’t care… Can’t they get with the program already?

This guy is so in over his head. He lied on his resume and he’s been floundering ever since, playing the race card, and sheltering behind the manners and courtesy of others. The problem is the mullahs and Syria have no manners or courtesy toward him and are just scared of the American military. This leaves Obama confounded. If he can’t guilt something from people, then the man’s at a total loss. He’s pathetic.