Obama’s Syria address sows more confusion

    Now that I’ve heard President Obama’s prime-time address on the Syria crisis, I think I finally understand where he stands:

    He has the commander-in-chief authority to strike Syria militarily any time he wants to — and he may indeed want to because “it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons” — although because there is “the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security” (not to be confused with our urgent “national security interests”), he has deemed it prudent to slam on the brakes and submit his authority to approval from Congress over a span of many weeks, although he still reserves the right to speedily strike Syria any time he wants to even if Congress refuses to grant its approval (although he hasn’t specifically said he would do this)…

    …And to woo congressional approval, he’s now assuring everyone that “this would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities,” a “limited strike (that) will send a message,” and this “targeted” “limited” strike would apparently be bigger than a “pinprick” and bigger than an “unbelievably small limited kind of effort” (Secretary of State John Kerry’s description), but apparently it would be smaller than “a prolonged air campaign” like in Libya two years ago and Kosovo 14 years ago, so in other words, the strike(s) would be somewhere between limited and prolonged…

    …But whoa, he’s no longer asking Congress to saddle up with all deliberate speed, because now he wants Congress “to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force” for an undetermined period of time, even though his guy Kerry had said the opposite yesterday morning (“We’re not asking Congress not to vote” and “I’m not asking delay”), and that’s because Obama is “seeing some encouraging signs” of a possible “diplomatic path,” thanks to Russia, which “has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons” – and Russia is only doing this “because of the credible threat of U.S. military action” (even though Vladimir Putin has his own geopolitical reasons for doing this, like ensuring that his thug pal Assad stays in power, and remains free to go on killing little kids via non-chemical means – a collateral moral conundrum that Obama didn’t mention)…

    …But hey, “this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force,” Obama said last night, which is ironic, because the administration had poo-pooed the very same idea when Kerry had suggested it on Monday (declaring that Obama might nix a strike if Assad agreed to surrender “every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community”), but whatever, a life raft is a life raft (maybe), even if Putin (of all people) is piloting it, and indeed, as Obama said, “it’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed,” and that may take some time to figure out – “we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council” – although there was no mention of how much figure-out time will be required, despite Kerry’s thunderous warning that “we’re not waiting for long”…

    …But the wait could be long, unless we redefine many months as short, because we don’t know how sincere or cynical Putin is about this “diplomatic path” (take a guess), and indeed, as Obama said last night, “any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps it commitments,” which of course prompts new questions – none of which Obama mentioned at all – about who will verify (U.N. inspectors’ boots on the ground?) and how the verification would work, and whether it can work, because the logistics required to secure and store and move and destroy chemical weapons are reportedly mind-boggling, and that assumes we can ever know whether all the weapons have been accounted for – all of which makes you wonder (a) what kind of new timeline we’re talking about, (b) what’s the point at which the administration will conclude that this Russia plan is real or a ruse, and (c) if it’s the latter, whether the administration will restart its military strike countdown, either on its own or with an OK from Congress, still reserving the right to strike without Congress…

    So. That should clear things up.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

     

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