Obama’s Bread and Circuses

Obama and ship of fools-thumb-470x254-3130Originally published in The Jerusalem Post

Over the past week, President Barack Obama and his senior advisers have told us that the US is poised to go to war against Syria. In the next few days, the US intends to use its air power and guided missiles to attack Syria in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons in the outskirts of Damascus last week.

The questions that ought to have been answered before any statements were made by the likes of Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have barely been raised in the public arena. The most important of those questions are: What US interests are at stake in Syria? How should the US go about advancing them? What does Syria’s use of chemical weapons means for the US’s position in the region? How would the planned US military action in Syria impact US deterrent strength, national interests and credibility regionally and worldwide? Syria is not an easy case. Thirty months into the war there, it is clear that the good guys, such as they are, are not in a position to win.

Syria is controlled by Iran and its war is being directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and by Hezbollah. And arrayed against them are rebel forces dominated by al-Qaida.

As US Sen. Ted Cruz explained this week, “Of nine rebel groups [fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad], seven of them may well have some significant ties to al-Qaida.”

With no good horse to bet on, the US and its allies have three core interests relating to the war. First, they have an interest in preventing Syria’s chemical, biological and ballistic missile arsenals from being used against them either directly by the regime, through its terror proxies or by a successor regime.

Second, the US and its allies have an interest in containing the war as much as possible to Syria itself.

Finally, the US and its allies share an interest in preventing Iran, Moscow or al-Qaida from winning the war or making any strategic gains from their involvement in the war.

For the past two-and-a-half years, Israel has been doing an exemplary job of securing the first interest. According to media reports, the IDF has conducted numerous strikes inside Syria to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry, including missiles from Syria to Hezbollah.

Rather than assist Israel in its efforts that are also vital to US strategic interests, the US has been endangering these Israeli operations. US officials have repeatedly leaked details of Israel’s operations to the media. These leaks have provoked several senior Israeli officials to express acute concern that in providing the media with information regarding these Israeli strikes, the Obama administration is behaving as if it is interested in provoking a war between Israel and Syria. The concerns are rooted in a profound distrust of US intentions, unprecedented in the 50-year history of US-Israeli strategic relations.

The second US interest threatened by the war in Syria is the prospect that the war will not be contained in Syria. Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan specifically are threatened by the carnage. To date, this threat has been checked in Jordan and Lebanon. In Jordan, US forces along the border have doubtlessly had a deterrent impact in preventing the infiltration of the kingdom by Syrian forces.

In Lebanon, given the huge potential for spillover, the consequences of the war in Syria have been much smaller than could have been reasonably expected. Hezbollah has taken a significant political hit for its involvement in the war in Syria. On the ground, the spillover violence has mainly involved Shi’ite and Shi’ite jihadists targeting one another.

Iraq is the main regional victim of the war in Syria. The war there reignited the war between Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq. Violence has reached levels unseen since the US force surge in 2007. The renewed internecine warfare in Iraq redounds directly to President Barack Obama’s decision not to leave a residual US force in the country. In the absence US forces, there is no actor on the ground capable of strengthening the Iraqi government’s ability to withstand Iranian penetration or the resurgence of al-Qaida.

The third interest of the US and its allies that is threatened by the war in Syria is to prevent Iran, Russia or al-Qaida from securing a victory or a tangible benefit from their involvement in the war.

It is important to note that despite the moral depravity of the regime’s use of chemical weapons, none of America’s vital interests is impacted by their use within Syria. Obama’s pledge last year to view the use of chemical weapons as a tripwire that would automatically cause the US to intervene militarily in the war in Syria was made without relation to any specific US interest.

But once Obama made his pledge, other US interests became inextricably linked to US retaliation for such a strike. The interests now on the line are America’s deterrent power and strategic credibility. If Obama responds in a credible way to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, those interests will be advanced. If he does not, US deterrent power will become a laughing stock and US credibility will be destroyed.

Unfortunately, the US doesn’t have many options for responding to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. If it targets the regime in a serious way, Assad could fall, and al-Qaida would then win the war. Conversely, if the US strike is sufficient to cause strategic harm to the regime’s survivability, Iran could order the Syrians or Hezbollah or Hamas, or all of them, to attack Israel. Such an attack would raise the prospect of regional war significantly.

A reasonable response would be for the US to target Syria’s ballistic missile sites. And that could happen. Although the US doesn’t have to get involved in order to produce such an outcome. Israel could destroy Syria’s ballistic missiles without any US involvement while minimizing the risk of a regional conflagration.

There are regime centers and military command and control bases and other strategic sites that it might make sense for the US to target.

Unfortunately, the number of regime and military targets the US has available for targeting has been significantly reduced in recent days. Administration leaks of the US target bank gave the Syrians ample time to move their personnel and equipment.

This brings us to the purpose the Obama administration has assigned to a potential retaliatory strike against the Syrian regime following its use of chemical weapons.

Obama told PBS on Wednesday that US strikes on Syria would be “a shot across the bow.”

But as Charles Krauthammer noted, such a warning is worthless. In the same interview Obama also promised that the attack would be a nonrecurring event. When there are no consequences to ignoring a warning, then the warning will be ignored.

This is a very big problem. Obama’s obvious reluctance to follow through on his pledge to retaliate if Syria used chemical weapons may stem from a belated recognition that he has tethered the US’s strategic credibility to the quality of its response to an action that in itself has little significance to US interests in Syria.

And this brings us to the third vital US interest threatened by the war in Syria – preventing Iran, al-Qaida or Russia from scoring a victory.

Whereas the war going on in Syria pits jihadists against jihadists, the war that concerns the US and its allies is the war the jihadists wage against everyone else. And Iran is the epicenter of that war.

Like US deterrent power and strategic credibility, the US’s interest in preventing Iran from scoring a victory in Damascus is harmed by the obvious unseriousness of the “signal” Obama said he wishes to send Assad through US air strikes.

Speaking on Sunday of the chemical strike in Syria, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned, “Syria has become Iran’s testing ground…. Iran is watching and it wants to see what would be the reaction on the use of chemical weapons.”

The tepid, symbolic response that the US is poised to adopt in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons represents a clear signal to Iran. Both the planned strikes and the growing possibility that the US will scrap even a symbolic military strike in Syria tell Iran it has nothing to fear from Obama.

Iran achieved a strategic achievement by exposing the US as a paper tiger in Syria. With this accomplishment in hand, the Iranians will feel free to call Obama’s bluff on their nuclear weapons project. Obama’s “shot across the bow” response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons in a mass casualty attack signaled the Iranians that the US will not stop them from developing and deploying a nuclear arsenal.

Policy-makers and commentators who have insisted that we can trust Obama to keep his pledge to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons have based their view on an argument that now lies in tatters. They insisted that by pledging to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, Obama staked his reputation on acting competently to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. To avoid losing face, they said, Obama will keep his pledge.

Obama’s behavior on Syria has rendered this position indefensible. Obama is perfectly content with shooting a couple of pot shots at empty government installations. As far as he is concerned, the conduct of air strikes in Syria is not about Syria, or Iran. They are not the target audience of the strikes. The target audience for US air strikes in Syria is the disengaged, uninformed American public.

Obama believes he can prove his moral and strategic bonafides to the public by declaring his outrage at Syrian barbarism and then launching a few cruise missiles from an aircraft carrier. The computer graphics on the television news will complete the task for him.

The New York Times claimed on Thursday that the administration’s case for striking Syria would not be the “political theater” that characterized the Bush administration’s case for waging war in Iraq. But at least the Bush administration’s political theater ended with the invasion. In Obama’s case, the case for war and the war itself are all political theater.

While for a few days the bread and circuses of the planned strategically useless raid will increase newspaper circulation and raise viewer ratings of network news, it will cause grievous harm to US national interests. As far as US enemies are concerned, the US is an empty suit.

And as far as America’s allies are concerned, the only way to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power is to operate without the knowledge of the United States.

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  • popseal

    The Glick chick clicks again spot on right………

  • Moa

    Before the other questions even get asked the most important one should be asked, “Can Obama take the US to war without getting Congressional approval?”

    The answer is NO!

    In fact, it is HELL NO!

    The War Powers Act explicitly prevents a President from taking the US to war. Only Congress can do that.

    All the great questions the author raises about strategic interests are fascinating but irrelevant. President Obama cannot attack Syria without Congressional approval. To do so is an *illegal* usurpation of powers a President is prohibited from having under the War Powers Act.

    If Obama attacks Syria he is liable for, and should be, impeached.

  • D_boy

    how can a laughing stock produce any other results? We need to expel this fraud of a leader. He is a dufus with evil intentions.

  • TheOrdinaryMan

    An American attack on Syria would be worse than useless; it would be suicidal.
    The U.S. military is focused now on disengagement from Afghanistan–getting our troops out with as few as possible getting killed. In addition, the US military is financially stretched and very demoralized. To stumble into a war in Syria would be the most irresponsible, suicidal act any POTUS could undertake. It would give Iran a PR victory, while undermining Israel’s preparations for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. If Obama pulls the trigger, I-M-P-E-A-C-H him.

    • BS77

      I hope and pray we do not launch against Syria…no good can come of it.
      More death and destruction is all that will follow.

  • https://www.Twitter.com/TheJettDavis Jett Davis

    Excellent article but for a few critical points. The US is currently $17 trillion in debt. Who’s going to pay for a protracted ground occupation of Syria? There’s no doubt we’ll have to occupy Syria if Assad falls (if only to keep the WMDs out of Al-Nusra’s hands, not to mention to stabilize a new regime and provide humanitarian aid). Will the American people go for this? I think not, especially after a dozen years of Afghanistan & Iraq. And what about Russia? I guarantee you they will not allow Assad to fall. I’m an agnostic spiritually, but grew up Catholic, and this is starting to look more and more like the Battle of Megiddo. As for any ‘good guys,’ there are none in this civil war. Neither side is ours (other than to keep Israel from being incinerated, as Iran has threatened–ironically, if we enter). And then there’s the non-commitment of the Arab League, and the impotent, feckless behavior of the UN (whose responsibility this really is). Without Saudi Arabia’s blessing (or that of a majority in the Arab League), this action is going nowhere. And what about the damage Hezbollah has done to itself inside Lebanon by illegally(?) entering Syrian conflict? I read one report recently that they’re actually on the way out as a force in the region. As for the UN, if 100,00 deaths over more than 2 years can’t get them to act decisively and effectively, maybe it should be dissolved. The entire Mid East suffers from one major problem within these tribal skirmishes, they’ve never had a Reformation (see Bernard Lewis for more on that). Bottom line: as the PBS documentary “The Life of Muhammad” proved, this insanity has been going on for 1,400 years and isn’t getting any better or clearer. Our involvement merely muddies the waters and works to unify all of Islam–falsely–against the West. This article is another half great, half lousy neocon spin on, essentially, the incompatibility of Islam and democracy (modernity, if you will). I say let these 7th century fundamentalists solve their own problems, along with the Arab League, the UN, The Hague, and “a coalition of the willing.” Short of an attack on Israel or the US proper, include me out (just like Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, and other real conservatives).

    • TheOrdinaryMan

      But notice, Obama isn’t saying to Syria and Iran, “An attack on Israel will be looked upon as an attack on the United States,” like he would, if he truly “has Israel’s back.”

      • Gee

        The only thing Odumba would do to back Israel is put a knife it.

        Let the Arabs handle their own affairs – I am certain that 3 wars for Odumba ALL without Congressional approval is more than enough

  • timpottorff

    I hope Caroline Glick’s genes are cryogenically preserved in some vault somewhere…after the Left destroys the US and we look like a Road Warrior movie, her brainpower and insight will be useful for cloning patriots for the future.

    • Gee

      She is an Israeli – I sure would like her as Foreign Minister with Bennett as Prime Minister

  • Anamah

    The first problem we face with this egocentric prima ballerina we have in the White House, is to derail his hyperactive vocation to act and transforming everything for the worst.
    Our theatrical president likes to shine playing as heir to a endless fortune.

    But his closed mind is crippling the American goose that lays golden eggs while condemning her to a starvation diet.
    I know is too much to hope… but is time for us to stop the nonsense.
    Stay aside, do not help our enemies!
    Do not threat our freedoms!!!
    Stop harming America and Israel right now!

  • Chrissy

    Heil Hitler!!!!

  • Mladen_Andrijasevic

    The real question is why Syria and not Iran? Why was the House of Commons debating Syria and not Iran? The Iranian nuclear threat is orders of magnitude more dangerous that the Syrian chemical one. The US is concentrating on the wrong country.

    Is the House of Commons abdicating its duty regarding the Iranian nuclear threat?

    • TheOrdinaryMan

      The House can’t even get its act together and get the Shield Act, H.R. 668, which would protect America’s electrical grid, out of committee. How do you expect them to talk about Iran?

      • Mladen_Andrijasevic

        My post was about the British Parliament not the US Congress

        • Sharps Rifle

          And a good post it was! The other poster also makes a good point: The US House of Representatives is proving to be as useless as the House of Commons.
          The governments of BOTH of our countries are THREATS to both of our countries.

  • Sharps Rifle

    Since Hussein has allied himself with al-Q, we can draw two conclusions:
    1) He’s Sunni, not Shi’a.
    2) As he has been elected to an office of trust under the US Constitution, and is adhering to an enemy of the United States, he–regardless of citizenship, or lack thereof–is guilty of treason under both statutory and constitutional definitions.

    We can also safely state that the supposed opposition party, the Republican’ts, are too afraid of being called “evil racistsexisthomophobebigots” to attempt to impeach and remove this individual who has committed criminal act after criminal act after criminal act…including self-confessed acts (multiple instances of controlled substance procurement, selling and use, as admitted to in his own autohagiographies), and his self-confessed sympathy for the enemy (muslimes). Thus, it remains to the people of this nation, either on their own or via the actions of the armed forces, to remove this lawless usurper from office before he can start a third World War.

    I am as serious about this as can be said. He MUST be removed, not for the good just of the United States, but for the good of the world!

    • victor

      Even Egyptians were able to remove from office the corrupt Muslim Brotherhood elected President as he went on to destroy their country and pit the Egyptian people against one another. Now that’s democracy, not what we have now.

    • shalom36

      When in Indonesia he was part of the sunni sect. Erdogan, his best friend in the ME, is sunni. MB is sunni. No kidding BO is sunni in his sympathies if not beliefs. Has he renounced his sunni background? What sound is most beautiful to Oballah? What did he recite in perfect Arabic? Whom did he say he would stand with? He must laugh himself to sleep at night thinking about what dupes his supporters are. All of this is easily confirmed through simple research. Brennan is/was probably sunni too. Who was it in Zero Dark 30 getting up off the magic carpet? Just want to thank the American’t voters who inflicted this nightmare on the world,

  • Texas Patriot

    Going to war to assist Al Qaida, one of America’s bitterest and most implacable enemies is one of the strangest and most bizarre political ideas that has ever been debated in Washington, D.C. And it’s not just Obama and the Democrats in favor of it. There are plenty of Republicans keen on the idea as well. Never mind that the vast majority of the American people want no part of it.

  • Paulie

    Don’t The Israelis understand that the good ole US of A will not back them up?and maybe even try to get rid of them (their existence was a mistake)?.Israel is now a big boy and must defend itself.Daddy America has an advanced case of dementia and is useless. If Israel’s left is allowed to grow they they will wither on the vine like America has. Be strong and brave.

  • dougjmiller

    This administration is like the 3 Stooges with Obama playing Curly and Kerry playing Larry. I’m not sure who’s playing Moe. On a serious note, the Syrian civil war is between 2 evil forces. On the one side you have the autocratic dictatorship of Assad in power and backed by the Shi-ite Islamic dictatorship which rules Iran and the Hezbollah terrorist organization which controls parts of Lebanon. The forces fighting to overthrow the Assad regime are dominated by al-Qaeda terrorists that want to impose a Sunni-Islamic dictatorship in Syria. There are many decent Syrians who desire freedom and democracy, but they are mainly peaceful and many are already refugees. They will be eliminated no matter which bad guys win. America is already $17 trillion in debt and tied down in other conflicts. America should not be involved militarily in the Syrian civil war.

    • Gee

      Moe is Chuck Hagel

    • cjkcjk

      Valerie Jarret gives all the orders so she would be Moe

  • USARetired

    And to prove the empty suit theory, The Pentagon has gone on record stating they have no money for action in Syria!
    I guess O’Bozo spent it all on vacations!

  • Recondobilly

    To me, the idea of getting the House involved makes the American public bear some responsibility for a bad idea. Would it not be an easier out for soetoro to point his boney finger at the inaction of the UN? No his masters have a vested interest in our involvment. Meanwhile back to Miley’s tongue and crotch..