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12 September 2013

Our 'Second Lincoln' and The Syria Mess


By Walter Russell Mead

Just how bad of a mess is President Obama in over Syria? So bad that the New York Times is visibly pained by the messy and humiliating situation the Democratic Reagan, the Second Coming of Lincoln and the New FDR finds himself in this week. A sampling of today’s headlines: A Rare Public View of Obama’s Pivots on Policy in Syria Confrontation“, “As Obama Pauses Action, Putin Takes Center Stage“, “U.S. Backing of Russian Plan Leaves a Wary Israel Focusing on Self-Reliance“.

The president’s boosters are trying to put a brave face on the situation. From the Times:

“All the critics would like this to be easily choreographed, a straight line and end the way they’d all individually like it to end,” said David Plouffe, the president’s former senior adviser. “That’s not the way the world works for sure, especially in a situation like this. I think it speaks to his strength, which is that he’s willing to take in new information.” [...]

“President Obama was elected in part because when Washington followed the conventional wisdom into Iraq, he took a different approach,” said Dan Pfeiffer, his senior adviser. “The American people appreciate the fact that he takes a thoughtful approach to these most serious of decisions.”

Missing from the chorus of strained, faint praise from his defenders: references to the vaunted oratorical powers of the Great Persuader. Somehow, the man the MSM once hailed as the greatest American speechmaker since Abraham Lincoln sounded oddly unconvincing on the subject of his Syria policy.

The gap between national security reporters reduced to head scratching incredulity as America’s Middle East policy unravels in a spectacular public flameout and the administration shills scrambling to cover the emperor’s nakedness has opened into a yawning chasm.

What the president’s supporters are hoping for at this point is the same thing we all want—for the good foreign policy fairy to save President Obama (and the country) from the ugly and humiliating trap of a Syria policy he so carefully designed for himself. Luck matters, and America’s structural position in world affairs is so strong that we often manage to extricate ourselves from nasty scrapes with far fewer bruises than our enemies and rivals would like to inflict.

But even the administration’s most ardent supporters at this point must know in their heart of hearts that President Obama’s chances of being ranked as one of our great foreign policy presidents are not very high—and they are melting faster than a Himalayan glacier in an IPCC report. Like Blanche DuBois in a “Streetcar Named Desire”, President Obama has worked himself into a position in which he must depend on the kindness of strangers like Vladimir Putin. It didn’t work out very well for her; let’s hope that President Obama (and the country he leads) can somehow escape the full price of our Syria clusterfarce.

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