Expert: Obama 'made a stumble' on Syria
The Rev. John Sawicki calls it a make-or-break moment for the White House, this threat of military strikes in Syria.
While President Obama showed moral authority in vowing a strong response to chemical attacks under Syrian President Bashar Assad, his push for congressional approval sends a muddled message to a combative region, Sawicki said.
“It's almost like the president is trying to put the brakes on the policy he already had,” said Sawicki, an assistant professor who co-chairs the Center for International Relations at Duquesne University. “You don't make a threat like that, especially to a rogue actor, and not show resolve. In that sense, the president has made a stumble in not showing an immediate response.”
The delayed reaction to the attacks Aug. 21 near Damascus has become a revealing moment for the administration's approach to foreign policy, an area that plays second fiddle to its priorities at home, several political scientists and policy analysts agreed this week.
In a televised address on Tuesday night, Obama said Congress should postpone voting on military action while the United States pursues more diplomatic avenues.
“The president basically finds himself going before the American people for a case (for military strikes) that he didn't want anything to do with,” said Jim Carafano, a retired military officer and foreign policy expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. He said Obama has appeared risk-averse since the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic mission at Benghazi in Libya that killed four people and became a flashpoint in domestic politics.
Public opinion polling suggests the American public doesn't want much to do with attacking Syria, either. Sixty-three percent of Americans oppose the use of force there, up from 48 percent last week, according to a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll released on Monday. Fifty-nine percent of those in a CNN/Opinion Research survey said Congress should prevent even a limited use of military force.
“They're tired of endless wars that we've been involved with for the last 10 years,” said Jules Lobel, a professor in international law at the University of Pittsburgh. He said Americans want to avoid spending money on overseas interventions when Congress is cutting domestic programs.
Plus, “it's really unclear what the purpose of this (military action) is,” Lobel said. “I don't think the administration has laid out a good case of why we're doing this and what it's going to accomplish.”
Obama tried to strengthen that case with his prime-time address, saying potential military strikes would be limited in scope. The United States is not the world's policeman, he said.
“If chemical weapons are so terrible — and they surely are — then why isn't the world responding to this problem?” Sawicki said. “If America isn't the world's policeman, then what is America doing right now? It might not be the world's policeman, but it's definitely the reluctant sheriff.”
He said Obama would have to respond indirectly, through support of opposition groups in Syria, should he ultimately decline to pursue a direct military attack.
If that ends up being the case, the Syrian civil war will probably continue with Assad holding an upper hand, said Christopher Harper, a Temple University journalism professor in Philadelphia and former Middle East reporter for Newsweek.
“Domestically, I hope we turn our attention to the many problems facing the U.S.,” he said. “We have a lot of problems at home, and they've been put on the back burner as we ponder Syria.”
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- Convicted Florida felon kills his 6 grandchildren, daughter, self
- Global heat records tumble once again
- Deputy vanishes amid Texas flooding
- British hostage in Islamic State video talks of showing ‘the truth’
- Training, equipping Syrian rebels approved by Senate
- House GOP repackages election-year bills, expected to fail
- Home Depot warns 56 million cards at risk
- Dog found in Oregon will fly to Pa.
- VA report sugarcoats actions, doctor says
- Red tide threatens Florida economy
- White House orders plan for antibiotic resistance problem