Foreign and Defense Policy, Middle East and North Africa

Obama: L’etat, c’est moi

Image Credit: spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

There is a theme that threads its way through the political life of Barack Obama, and it is the only way to understand Syria, Benghazi, and so much more. Sadly, that theme is not principled opposition to war or even a desire to diminish America’s footprint on the world stage; it is egotism. How can we reconcile the president’s myriad positions on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Egypt, al Qaeda, and more? The answer is that his opposition/support/outrage/fervor for the use of force in Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya/Syria/Yemen/Pakistan/etc can only make sense if we understand that when Barack Obama thinks it’s ok, it’s ok.

And when he doesn’t, well, it isn’t. Like the old riddle about the two Indians, one of which always tells the truth and the other who always lies, we are left trying to make sense of the president’s many, many contradictory statements. Last night’s speech was no different; the vast mass of his short address to the nation was about the imperative of answering Assad’s use of chemical weapons with military force. The final minutes were about not using that force. Congress should authorize the decision, but shouldn’t vote now. The strike will be limited, but lethal. We’re not the world’s “policeman,” but we can’t turn the other cheek at this challenge to “freedom and dignity for all people.”

Small wonder, then, that neither the American people nor Democrats and Republicans in Congress are willing to follow a man whose sole guiding principle is, “If I want to do it, it’s right.” Especially when the likely corollary is, “And now I don’t want to do it anymore.”

It is fine for a leader to be conflicted, and justifiable to delay military action in the hope of diplomatic solutions. But it is not fine to work out that conflict on American television screens, nor to laud (and indeed, take credit for) solutions that are false on their face. Similarly, it is fine to justify the use of force in Libya on the grounds that, absent intervention, “Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners.” But it’s not fine to pretend those words were never uttered, precedents not set, and that somehow, dead Syrians are less worthy. Every step the president has taken in facing up to the challenge in Syria – a complex one, no doubt – is to rationalize why his previous utterances don’t apply. The simple problem is that those rationalizations don’t make sense. And there is now such a vast trust deficit that even members of his own party are distancing themselves from Obama.

I have written repeatedly that the United States has an interest in ensuring a stable and Assad-free future for Syria; many of us have written on a variety of occasions about how to work toward that goal. But forget about Syria for a moment. What about Iran? Even the Rand Pauls of this world allow that we are facing the deadly prospect of an Iran with nuclear weapons. On Monday, Susan Rice repeated Obama’s oft-stated line that “we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Oh really? Can anyone believe that in Tehran they see the president’s contortions on Syria as a deterrent? His willingness to ignore 13 previous uses of chemical weapons against the Syrian people in violation of his own “red line” as determination? Rather, the president has done little more than assure Iran’s new leaders that Washington is fundamentally unserious when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, not to speak of its ongoing support for Assad, for Hezbollah, and for terrorists in Gaza.

It is easy to dismiss this latest in a series of foreign policy debacles as nothing more than the flailings of an amateur. But this man is the President of the United States of America.  He certainly hasn’t forgotten the title; merely the responsibility he has to uphold the dignity and strength of the office in the service of the best interests of the nation.

12 thoughts on “Obama: L’etat, c’est moi

  1. Obama is not simply an egotist – he has a mental disorder that long ago turned malignant – he is a full-fledged narcissist.

    Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

  2. Right wing critics of the President constantly engage in chickenshit personality speculation because their so called facts aren’t very compelling. Makes them look sort of stupid and superficial. Know what I mean?

    Superficial: Concerned with or comprehending only what is on the surface or obvious. Shallow; not profound or thorough.

  3. I agree that Obama’s positions and statements have been inconsistent and incoherent, but I’m afraid this is more a difference of degree than kind. The US has always been inconsistent in its human rights policies. When we need nothing from the thugs, and have the military superiority or other leverage to punish them at little cost, we are much more likely to act forcefully than when we need something from them, or when we’d pay too high a price for taking forceful measures.

    The big inconsistency is between Lybia and Syria – Obama’s unilateral action in the former vs. his deference to Congress in the current matter. But Obama is hardly the only president to pay attention to political considerations. It’s not just that the public is getting tired of more than a decade of perpetual war, and according to the polls a majority of the public is against a US military strike. There’s also the impending battles over the budget and the debt ceiling; these factors may also have played a part in motivating him to show deference to Congress now when he did not in Lybia.

    I’m not sure even Ronald Reagan could have persuaded the public to support military action if he were somehow still alive and trying to lead the country to back it after the history of the current century (though I would concur that he’d have done a better job than this administration).

  4. Why would obama change now. Congress has enabled him to lie and delay repeatedly on any number of matters (obamacare, egypt, NSA, IRS, Fast & Furious, Benghazi) and there is no penalty.

    • Have I read this horse-hockey anywhere or at anytime on this website? Not until now. I will however agree with Charles Koch who said this about Obama:

      “He’s a dedicated egalitarian. I’m not saying he’s a Marxist, but he’s internalized some Marxist models — that is, that business tends to be successful by exploiting its
      customers and workers.”

  5. General smedley butler warned that rouge capitalist (too big to fail) were responsible for our squeezed wages and wars abroad (the occupy kids feel the same way), i guess now that the tea b ggrs are so isolationist now and the republicans are in lock step….things should be taking a turn domestically soon. they are all ON record isolationist now…bet the koch bros. realize this…progressives might wanna seize upon this flaw of the simple…..immediately.

    i would suggest you realize the significance of the last 2 weeks—-the characters just became unwitting isolationist The significance of that domestically…..is stunning. like a devastating combination to the body one should then….relax….back off let the punishment soak in, then move in and look for the easy stoppage. They just embraced the OCCUPY agenda,

  6. Let’s all agree that Obama’s policies have been confused and inept for the past two years when it comes to this issue. He is in way, way over his head and his advisors are amateurs (to be charitable). The question is, what now?

    A snake like Putin doesn’t care about our partisan squabbles; he is setting up a new order in the Middle East that strips away our position of influence and is profoundly dangerous to Israel, among other allies. What are we as a country going to do about it?

    All we can do is support Obama in this. This is not a GOP/Dem issue–America first. Please Mr. President, show some backbone for a change and push back on Putin. The country and the world will fall in behind you but you have to LEAD!

  7. Inept amateurs? Hilarious. When Obama became President Afghanistan was a stalemated quagmire with no end in sight. When he increased troop strength there Republicans acted as though they’d never even heard of Afghanistan. That’s because the idea of US military victory under Obama doesn’t fit the narrative.
    Republicans have lost all credibility on foreign affairs and defense issues because in their world everything is subordinate to petty politics, ideology, and rhetoric.

  8. You know, Obama does not seem to realize that our global reputation for rushing into long and bankrupting wars with no upside for the USA is hanging by a thread.

    I mean, Iraqistan was $6 trillion in folly (and still counting).

    What kind of measly track record has Obama, compared to the $6 trillion in outlays and incurred liabilities of Iraqistan?

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