Opinion: Syria reveals Obama incompetence

September 13, 2013


— The president of the United States takes to the airwaves to urgently persuade the nation to pause before doing something it has no desire to do in the first place.

Strange. And it gets stranger still. That “strike Syria, maybe” speech begins with a heart-rending account of children consigned to a terrible death by a monster dropping poison gas. It proceeds to explain why such behavior must be punished. It culminates with the argument that the proper response — the most effective way to uphold fundamental norms, indeed human decency — is a flea bite: something “limited,” “targeted” or, as so memorably described by Secretary of State John Kerry, “unbelievably small.”

The mind reels, but there’s more. We must respond — but not yet. This “Munich moment” (Kerry again) demands first a pause to find accommodation with that very same toxin-wielding monster, by way of negotiations with his equally cynical, often shirtless, Kremlin patron bearing promises.

The promise is to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. The negotiations are open-ended. Not a word from President Obama about any deadline or ultimatum. And utter passivity: Kerry said hours earlier that he awaited the Russian proposal.

Why? The administration claims (preposterously, but no matter) that Obama has been working on this idea with Putin at previous meetings. Take at face value Obama’s claim of authorship. Then why isn’t he taking ownership? Why isn’t he calling it the “U.S. proposal” and defining it? Why not issue a U.S. plan containing the precise demands, detailed timeline and threat of action should these conditions fail to be met?

Putin doesn’t care one way or the other about chemical weapons. Nor about dead Syrian children. Nor about international norms, parchment treaties and the other niceties of the liberal imagination.

He cares about power and he cares about keeping Bashar Assad in power. Assad is the key link in the anti-Western Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran through Damascus and Beirut to the Mediterranean — on which sits Tartus, Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. This axis frontally challenges the pro-American Sunni Arab Middle East (Jordan, Yemen, the Gulf Arabs, even the North African states), already terrified at the imminent emergence of a nuclear Iran.

At which point, the Iran axis and its Russian patron would achieve dominance over the moderate Arab states, allowing Russia to supplant America as regional hegemon for the first time since Egypt switched to our side in the Cold War in 1972.

The hinge of the entire Russian strategy is saving the Assad regime. That’s the very purpose of the “Russian proposal.” Imagine that some supposed arms control protocol is worked out. The inspectors have to be vetted by Assad, protected by Assad, convoyed by Assad, directed by Assad to every destination. Negotiation, inspection, identification, accounting, transport and safety would require constant cooperation with the regime, and thus acknowledgment of its sovereignty and legitimacy.

So much for Obama’s repeated insistence that Assad must go. Indeed, Putin has openly demanded that any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment to forswear the use of force against Assad. On Thursday, Assad repeated that demand, warning that without an American pledge not to attack and not to arm the rebels, his government would agree to nothing.

This would abolish the very possibility of America tilting the order of battle in a Syrian war that Assad is now winning thanks to Russian arms, Iranian advisers and Lebanese Hezbollah shock troops. Putin thus assures the survival of his Syrian client and the continued ascendancy of the anti-Western Iranian bloc.

And what does America get? Obama saves face.

Some deal.

As for the peace process, it has about zero chance of disarming Damascus. We’ve spent nine years disarming an infinitely smaller arsenal in Libya — in conditions of peace — and we’re still finding undeclared stockpiles.

Yet consider what’s happened over the last month. Assad uses poison gas on civilians and is branded, by the U.S. above all, a war criminal. Putin, covering for the war criminal, is exposed, isolated, courting pariah status.

And now? Assad, far from receiving punishment of any kind, goes from monster to peace partner. Putin bestrides the world stage, playing dealmaker. He’s welcomed by America as a constructive partner. Now a world statesman, he takes to The New York Times to blame American interventionist arrogance — aka “American exceptionalism” — for inducing small states to acquire WMDs in the first place.

And Obama gets to slink away from a Syrian debacle of his own making. Such are the fruits of a diplomacy of epic incompetence.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Mike Ford 7 months ago

it's hilarious how much conservatives will do mental and verbal gymnastics to find ways to criticize President Obama's diplomacy actions. People with patience eventually get what is needed. I've witnessed the draw the guns cowboy mentality since W and I love the silence when the B word is spoken. George W. Bush screwed up for the ages. He couldn't speak in public and listened to his handlers who got us in a world of stink that we're just now exiting. Gotta love the flip flopping old couple of Lindsey Graham and John McCain. If that's an example of conservative consistency then I want to know where the water in the desert is.


James Minor 7 months ago

The President did the right thing by letting the world know that this should not be tolerated. If America takes another position and doesn't strike Syria that is good. It shows he is listening to the people at the same time letting us know what he thinks. Do you think President Bush would have done that? How is the President incompetent? Syria is aware that we mean business and want Assad out. Russia also knows that they can't play with the US. What are they going to bring in defense of Syria - old boats and a beaten down army that will defect faster than a Cuban baseball team? This editorial is lame. The President brought the issue into the world's eye and showed concern, and it is now on the UN to take a step forward and do something!


snakeskin_cowboy 7 months ago

No denying a former KGB thug whack job ate Obama's lunch last week. This is a bitter pill to swallow for those who still idolize Obama no matter how much he screws up.


yourworstnightmare 7 months ago

The use of the word incompetence to describe what Obama is doing with regard to Syria must be an example of Right-Speak.

Just as with regard to the 2nd amendment and "well-regulated" meaning "unregulated", maybe Cabbagemalet here is using "incompetence" to mean just the opposite. It would certainly fit with the facts of Obama's Syria policy so far

It does stink getting schooled by Obama, though. As Cabbagemallet knows very well.


moliemolie 7 months ago

we got what we wanted without dropping one bomb. only in conservo-fox-world is that incompetence.


snakeskin_cowboy 7 months, 1 week ago

Obama and incompetence in the same sentence is redundant.


Trumbull 7 months, 1 week ago

Charles K is the last person I am going to listen to when it comes to foreign policy. These guys were wrong as can be about Iraq and Afghanistan and are continually wrong. Pat Roberts, Gingrich, all of them.

For proof, here is a clip of Charles K in 2003 on WMD and going into Iraq. If I am not mistaken, wasn't Pat Roberts involved in intelligence failures regarding WMD? How do these people still have jobs?

If you need further proof. I implore you to look-up "Newt Gingrich Libya Flip Flop", on YouTube. These guys are dishonest liars who peddle propaganda.


Trumbull 7 months, 1 week ago

Knew this was a Krauthammer piece before I even opened.

We have a President who will not let his "red line" mandate cloud his judgment. We have a president who is outraged by the chemical attacks, but also wants to seek diplomatic means. He does not care so much as where the diplomacy comes. I don't care if it comes from Russia or if it comes from Santa Claus. Diplomacy is far better option.

I am glad President Obama is thinking about diplomacy and is using all sound judgment available before using a military strike and dropping bombs. This shows that he knows the consequences of a military strike and the severity of it.....and that it should be used only as a last resort. He is showing an open mind. Open to diplomacy. I am proud of our President.


msezdsit 7 months, 1 week ago

Chuck, why not save time and just print in your article "I hate obama" because trying to find a new way to say that every column shows your incompetence and lack of imagination.


Armstrong 7 months, 1 week ago

Mr K you're about 5 years late with this. Barry has been highlighting his incompetence since day one in office. Syria is just the latest in the ongoing saga of this do nothing "leader".


Paul R Getto 7 months, 1 week ago

Killing more mothers and kids to prove we are the moral compass for the world. What a concept.


fmrl 7 months, 1 week ago

The PNAC manifesto is something all Americans should be aware of. It calls for American hegemony which is not in the interests of American citizens. 9-11 was an inside job and it was called for by PNAC. If we go to WW III we get stomped, period.


oldbaldguy 7 months, 1 week ago

Presidents make mistakes. However they should not say things in public if they can't follow through. Who would have a thought a KGB LTC is calling the shots now. Let us see what happens. Maybe something useful will come out of this. Do we want Assad out or not, what is in our national interests?


Seth Peterson 7 months, 1 week ago

Good thing this is titled under opinion, because there are no facts or journalism included. This article is a lot like Fox, they don't call it news (because it isn't), then try to present misinformation in a dishonest way to lead viewers to believe and act like it is.


tomatogrower 7 months, 1 week ago

And the GOP extremists are just bouncing around everywhere. First, they criticize him for being weak and not attacking Syria. Then he decides it's time to attack, and all of a sudden the war mongers become peaceniks. Then there might be a diplomatic solution, so it's back to being warmongers, and Obama is weak. I'm wondering if Obama is just messing with their heads. I know I've been entertained watching them. The only sad thing is their followers just don't see the hypocrisy, and of course, changing your stance every time Obama does something has nothing to do with racism, of course not. They would do that with any democrat. Not!


kansas_cynic 7 months, 1 week ago

Simple fact, Krauthammer will attack anything Obama says or does. And the clueless GOP extremists will support any and every thing Fox posts on web site or their alleged "fair and balanced" joke of a TV network.


Liberty275 7 months, 1 week ago

Thank goodness we have an ex-KGB former Soviet dictator to prevent our Nobel Peace Prize Award winner from declaring war.


toe 7 months, 1 week ago

President Obama is incompetent and ignorant, but represents his base well.


Richard Heckler 7 months, 1 week ago

Henry Kissinger once said controlling a world oil supply can control other nations. Controlling a world food supply controls people. Then again Henry also supported military dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

Chilean President Salvador Allende—Latin America’s first popularly elected socialist president—was dead as a result of a military coup allegedly backed by the CIA. He was replaced by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, whose regime killed, tortured, and exiled tens of thousands of Chileans. For the next 17 years, Chileans lived under an economically prosperous dictatorship that showed little regard for human rights.

A tidbit I learned by way of media news this week.



Richard Heckler 7 months, 1 week ago

The" foreign policy" below demonstrates incompetence galore for which Charles Krauthammer has endorsed with several well known war mongers. This cannot create peace. Has peace ever been the end result of mass occupation by another military power?

"Rebuilding America's Defences," openly advocates for total global military domination” (Very dangerous position which threatens OUR freedoms and the nations security)

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:

• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global protection for Wal-Mart,Oil,Coca Cola,Pepsico,diamonds,gold etc etc etc

• we need to strengthen our ties to dictator regimes friendly to American interests and Bogus values;

• we need to promote the cause of the political right wing and economic rape for corp USA abroad;

• we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in forcing others to accept our corrupt principles.

Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and immoral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the extortions of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness no matter how many innocent USA soldiers die.

The Plan


Steven Gaudreau 7 months, 1 week ago

I believe we can all thank Russia for resolving the chemicalcal weapons issue with Syria.


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