Americans and Syrians alike are holding their breath amidst talks currently being held in Geneva, hoping for a peaceful resolution to what otherwise could be belligerent escalation in Syria. If the Geneva talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are successful, military intervention won’t be needed; Syria will agree to hand over its chemical weapons and sign the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. But could we be entirely sure that America would have acted on its ultimatum to defend its red line had this agreement not presented itself to us?
Perhaps not. The argument can be made that Obama never actually wanted to intervene in Syria in the first place. And who could blame him? Military intervention in Syria is widely unpopular, as indicated by a Washington Post-ABC News Poll that found six in ten Americans disapprove of the idea, a disapproval shared by Democrat, Independent, and Republican citizens alike. Therefore, the only explanation for Obama’s excessive saber-rattling is to save face in light of the now-infamous red line speech given approximately a year ago in which he stated that chemical weapons activity would spur the U.S. to action. Now Syria is accused of employing chemical weapons against its own citizens, so Obama is forced to act, or at least to give the appearance of doing so.
Perhaps the most telling evidence of Obama’s reluctance is simply the fact that the United States has not found itself in Syria already. Here we are, almost two weeks since Obama decried Syrian aggression, and America is still sitting on its hands. This is a far cry from two years ago, when, in response to the Libyan Civil War, Obama launched a unilateral decision to intervene on the side of the Libyan rebels against Muammar Quaddafi. This decision, while advantageous to the Syrian rebels, soon backfired on the home front, where Obama was blasted for overstepping his power and declaring military intervention without the approval of Congress.
It was for this reason that I originally thought that he sought congressional approval this time around in order to not feed the flames of partisanship. However, considering the widespread congressional disapproval of the President, the only result that we could have expected from Congress was for it to shred yet another Obama agenda to pieces. After all, confirmation for this sort of political warfare comes from the horse’s mouth in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2011 statement that the number one priority was to get Obama out of the White House after one term.
While this backward reasoning would be legendary in and of itself, Obama took it a step further when he sent John Kerry into the fire as the main proponent of Syrian action in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Tuesday. As America still remains rocked by ground operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the last thing anyone wants to hear of is a similar thing being done in Syria. John Kerry made a fatal mistake when, asked to completely eliminate the idea of putting ground troops in Syria, he refused to take it off the table as a viable option. He later backtracked and called his consideration hypothetical, but the damage was already done as the statement went on to dominate the nightly news.
One could argue that Obama’s call for action in Syria has been reckless and sloppy. But for a President who managed to see universal healthcare into law, can we say this is his best effort? On the contrary, Obama has been in power long enough to know how the game is played, and he plays it to his benefit. He never wanted to go into Syria, and if he played his cards right, he would still remain the protector of the free world while Congress smoldered in its flame of disapproval ratings once again. He is a master manipulator.
Dennis-Brown is a member of the Class of 2017.