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In his famous novel, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes wrote about a Spanish gentleman who had such an excessive devotion to novels about chivalry that it came to affect his mind.
Concerning this man, Cervantes wrote, “ And thus, with much reading and little sleep, he dried out his brain in such a manner that he came to lose his judgement.”
The hero of the novel, imagining himself to be a knight, sets out on a number of misadventures the most famous of which involves his attack on a windmill that he thinks is a giant. It doesn’t go well for him.
Our president seems to have a problem with his judgement. In his case, President Barack Obama seems to have dried out his brain, with his excessive admiration of himself, in such a manner that he’s come to think that everybody is as awestruck with his rhetoric as he is. Last year, he drew a red line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. This year Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad called his bluff and used Sarin on civilians, killing more than a thousand last month.
The result would have made a good slapstick comedy routine if it had not been deadly serious. While declaring that it was the international community’s red line—not his red line—that Assad had crossed, he called for cruise missile strikes against the Assad regime. He kept swearing that the strikes weren’t intended to help overthrow Assad and Secretary of State John Kerry at one point said the strikes would be “unbelievably small.”
Things fell apart quickly as President Obama attempted to get himself out of the corner that his mouth had painted him into. The British pulled out of the proposed military strike. His attempt to rally international support at the G20 summit failed and his effort to get political cover by tossing this hot potato into Congress’s lap — against the advice of the top people in his administration — was headed for disaster as even members of his own party were balking at the request. Finally, Russian President Vladimir Putin rescued him from the certain humiliation of having his request for Congressional approval of military force rejected.
Now that President Putin has made it possible for him to climb down from his ill conceived cruise missile strike proposal, it would be a good idea if Don Barack de la Obama will get off his horse, take off his armor, put away his lance, huddle with his sidekick, Sancho Kerry, and develop a sensible policy about Syria. Foreign policy is not something that an American president should be making up on the fly. It should be the result of careful thought with consideration of both the risks and benefits of the policy under consideration. It also must promote our national interest.
Syria poses an especially challenging foreign policy situation that doesn’t seem to provide any clearly good courses of action. If Assad remains in power, he continues to be a link in an Iranian arc of influence that runs through Iraq and ends in Lebanon. This will be bad. If he’s forced out of power, he could be replaced by a regime dominated by Islamic extremists and friends of al Qaeda. This will also be bad.
With no good choices, President Obama is going to have to figure out what the least bad option is. He also needs to figure out the least bad method of trying to achieve this least bad option. This may or may not involve military strikes, but if it does, my bet is that he can sell the idea to the American public, especially with his gift for hot air, if we believe that it’s part of well thought-out plan that he and his advisers have developed.
And, whatever else the President does, he has got to stop drawing red lines without first coming up with a good plan for what he will do if the line gets crossed.