“It will be a White House address in which a president argues for an endeavor he is abandoning. It will be a president appealing for public support for an action he intends not to take.
“We’ve never had a presidential speech like that!”
So goes the pith of Peggy Noonan’s anticipatory online article for The Wall Street Journal, published only hours before President Barack Obama is to deliver a Syria address to an incredulous American public and scoffing international audience.
Noonan ripped Obama’s ridiculous, unswerving trudge toward this moment – a moment when he’s expected to absurdly take ownership and credit for distancing himself from a hawkish plan that was always his idea, and his alone. To bomb Syria, beset by a civil conflict that presents the U.S. and its hapless, dwindling allies no clear enemy, no clear good guy, no clear pretense for attacking and no clear exit strategy.
Here’s Noonan on Obama’s humiliating foray into – and quick retreat from – statecraft, Middle-East style:
The president will keep the possibility of force on the table, but really he’s lunging for a lifeline he was lucky to be thrown.
Why is he backing off? Because he knows he doesn’t have the American people and isn’t going to get them. The polls, embarrassingly, show the more people hear the less they support it. The president’s problem with his own base was probably startling to him, and sobering. He knows he was going to lose Congress, not only the House but very possibly—likely, I’d say—the Senate. The momentum was all against him. And he never solved—it was not solvable—his own Goldilocks problem: A strike too small is an embarrassment, a strike too big could topple the Assad regime and leave Obama responsible for a complete and cutthroat civil war involving terrorists, foreign operatives, nihilists, jihadists, underemployed young men, and some really nice, smart people. Obama didn’t want to own that, or the fires that could engulf the region once Syria went up.
His plan was never good. The choices were never good. In any case he was going to lose either in terms of domestic prestige, the foreign result or both. Likely both.
… A serious foreign-policy intellectual said recently that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s problem is that he’s a Russian leader in search of a Nixon, a U.S. president he can really negotiate with, a stone player who can talk grand strategy and the needs of his nation, someone with whom he can thrash it through and work it out. Instead he has Obama, a self-besotted charismatic who can’t tell the difference between showbiz and strategy, and who enjoys unburdening himself of moral insights to his peers.
This isn’t posted on some alternative conservative-media blog with only a few thousand – or a few hundred thousand – readers. It’s in The Wall Street Journal. Obama, who already didn’t have an exit strategy for an actual military conflict, now doesn’t have a graceful exit strategy from his own short-sighted, solipsistic ideas.
“An important thing,” concludes Noonan:
The president will be tempted, in his embarrassment, to show a certain dry and contemplative distance from Putin. The Obama White House should go lightly here: Putin could always, in his pique, decide to make things worse, not better. It would be good for Obama to show graciousness and appreciation. Yes, this will leave Putin looking and feeling good. But that’s not the worst thing that ever happened. And Putin has played this pretty well.
Humility from Barack Obama? That would indeed be a “change.”
But don’t hold your breath.