Obama’s red line was crossed on August 21st with 1400 dead from chemical attacks in Syria. The UN weapons inspection team has landed and Obama has been briefing US senators all day. The UK has voted not to participate in any military intervention, France is keen to participate, and US military assets are in place. Russia is arguing that the Syrian regime using weapons is absurd, and Iran has declared that if the US attacks Syria it would be the spark for something larger in its “shadow war”. This is the situation as Obama began making his speech this evening.
What commentators missed in the run up to this speech is just what a fix Obama is now in. Elected to end a war in the Middle East, starting another is not an attractive option. Using most of his political capital on domestic issues has also left him vulnerable at home – as senators such as McCain act daily to undermine the Presidents credibility. As such when the President argues tonight that a decision would be made by Congress if it will intervene in Syria, the administration was laying down the gauntlet and playing a shrew political game that will only strengthen the President. If Congress say no, the President save face internationally passing political responsibility to the legislature; if congress say yes, he has a mandate for action based on the democratic values of the US. This is a politically astute move that takes us back to Obama’s Chicago politics. What it is not, is leadership in the Middle East from the executive office of the US. This being said, buying time through this move is in and of itself a good move, that will hopefully allow cooler heads to prevail. What the White House needs is a strategy, it appears they have one at home, but are yet to develop one for the worlds most immediate crisis.