Obama oversteps again
Barack Obama's foreign policy dream — cordial relations with a Middle East tranquilized by “smart diplomacy” — is in a death grapple with reality. His rhetorical writhings illustrate the perils of loquacity. He has a glutton's rather than a gourmet's appetite for his own rhetorical cuisine and has talked America to the precipice of a fourth military intervention in the crescent that extends from Libya to Afghanistan.
He explained his sashay into Libya's 2011 civil war as pre-emptive: “I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” With characteristic self-satisfaction, Obama embraced the doctrine “R2P” — responsibility to protect civilians — and Libya looked like an opportunity for an inexpensive morality gesture using high explosives.
Last August, R2P reappeared when he startled his staff by saying of Syria's poison gas: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” The interesting metric “whole bunch” made his principle mostly a loophole and advertised his reluctance to intervene, a reluctance more sensible than his words last week: Syria's recidivism regarding gas is “going to require America's attention and hopefully the entire international community's attention.”
Words are so marvelously malleable in the Obama administration, the definition of “coup” somehow does not denote what happened in Egypt. Last week, an Obama spokesman said: “We have made the determination that making a decision about whether or not a coup occurred is not in the best interests of the United States.” The White House considers this a clever way of saying the law is a nuisance.
Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act forbids aid to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup” until the president determines that “a democratically elected government” has been restored. Secretary of State John Kerry was perhaps preparing to ignore this when he said something Egypt's generals have not had the effrontery to claim — that the coup amounted to “restoring democracy.”
Perhaps if Obama were not compiling such a remarkable record of indifference to law, it would be sensible to ignore his ignoring of this one.
But remember Libya. Since the War Powers Resolution was passed over Richard Nixon's veto in 1973, presidents have at least taken care to act “consistent with” its limits on unilateral presidential war-making. Regarding Libya, however, Obama was unprecedentedly cavalier, even though he had ample time to act consistent with the Constitution by involving a supportive Congress.
Obama is as dismissive of red lines he draws as he is of laws others enact. Last week, a State Department spokeswoman said his red line regarding chemical weapons was first crossed “a couple of months ago” and “the president took action” — presumably, announcing (non-lethal) aid to Syrian rebels — although “we're not going to outline the inventory of what we did.”
The administration now would do well to do something that the head of it has an irresistible urge not to do: stop talking.
If a fourth military intervention is coming, it will not be to decisively alter events, which we cannot do, in a nation vital to U.S. interests, which Syria is not. Rather, its purpose will be to rescue Obama from his words.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- West Mifflin Area solicitor steps down
- North Versailles commissions approve new fire policy
- Distracted Steelers show nothing in loss to Eagles
- Elizabeth Township road likely to reopen in September
- For Duquesne priest, Ice Bucket Challenge is personal
- Expectations high for final season at Ford City
- Munhall officials discuss communication problems, nonemergency phone numbers
- Port Authority adjusts bus schedules
- Apollo-Ridge has bevy of options at quarterback
- McKeesport’s Neal to seek musical career in Los Angeles
- LaBar: Hulk Hogan wants to fight Brock Lesnar?