Sunday, September 8, 2013

Saving Obama's Credibility

There are no good choices. President Obama has muddled his way into an impasse and now he is calling on Congress to bail him out. We are told that it’s for the good of the country.

A president who does not especially identify as leader of the nation, a president who has already eaten his words about the “red line” in Syria, a president who abrogates responsibility for his own words by saying that it’s not his credibility, but the world’s that is on the line… this president needs Congress to save him.

One fears that that ship has already sailed.

Ross Douthat framed the issue well this morning in The New York Times:

When the House and Senate vote on whether to authorize strikes on Bashar al-Assad, they’ll be choosing between two potentially disastrous paths: either endorse a quasi-war that many constituents oppose and that this White House seems incapable of justifying on the merits, or vote to basically finish off the current American president as a credible actor on the world stage.

But, why does Douthat still believe that Obama is a credible actor on the world stage?
The situation as it unfolds today shows a world in which the American president is not a credible leader.

Russia and China have taken the measure of President Obama as world leader and have found him lacking. They are making their moves.

Douthat seems to believe that a Congressional vote, followed by a few Tomahawk missiles is going to save the president’s credibility. As I have pointed out, there is no real credibility left to save.

President Obama himself said it loudly and clearly. His credibility is not on the line in Syria. Why should Congress defend the president’s credibility when he does not seem to understand the concept?

The American people voted for it. Now they will have to live with the consequences of their vote.

To state the obvious, the Obama foreign policy team is a sad bunch of poseurs and amateurs. Russia and China have taken the measure of a foreign policy team consisting of John Kerry, Susan Rice, Chuck Hagel and Samantha Power. They see an America that yearns to retreat from the world stage, that finds the burden of leadership too onerous.

Douthat offered some historical analogies:

The historical models would be our 1986 strike on Muammar el-Qaddafi or Operation Desert Fox against Saddam Hussein in 1998; each campaign had a limited purpose that didn’t open into wider war.

Unfortunately, Douthat has failed to mention the best historical analogy: Bill Clinton’s bombing runs against Afghanistan and Somalia in 1998. It confirmed what the terrorists had believed: that a decadent president did not have the stomach for a confrontation with Islamic terrorism.

Regardless of what Congress does and regardless of what Obama finally does, the game is over. It’s time to start assessing the damage that has befallen America and the world. It’s time for America do start asking itself how it elected so feckless and detached and inexperienced a man to the presidency.

Even if Congress votes yes, and even if Obama responds, the world will not be fooled by a little macho posturing.

Douthat argued his best case for Obama:

It is to President Obama’s great discredit that he has staked this credibility on a vote whose outcome he failed to game out in advance. But if he loses that vote, the national interest as well as his political interests will take a tangible hit: for the next three years, American foreign policy will be in the hands of a president whose promises will ring consistently hollow, and whose ability to make good on his strategic commitments will be very much in doubt.

Douthat is saying that Obama likes to shoot his mouth off. He likes to posture and bluster, but does not conduct policy. Congress does not have the power to make him into a leader.

Roger Kimball explained in excruciating detail why the Obama presidency lacks anything that even resembles credibility. It will take a lot more than a missile strike to restore American credibility.

In Kimball’s words:

Here’s the thing: from a certain distance and in a certain light Obama looks like an Important Person, the president of the United States, leader of the free (or at least formerly free) world, just as John Kerry looks (well, sort of looks) like something more than an insufferable prig and blowhard.

But take a closer look. You see that they are both completely out of their depth. Obama jets around on Air Force One. He spends tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on an African adventure for himself and his family while closing the White House to school tours because of the sequester. He swaggers just like he’s a big deal, but here’s the rub: the least-experienced president in the the history of the republic, the man whom nobody knew, the guy whose college transcripts we can’t see,  whose legislative record was one long evasive “Present,” whose repellent racialist pandering has set race relations back decades in this country, whose Alinskyite demonize-your-opponents radicalism has further poisoned the character of American politics: this mountebank has succeeded mightily in fulfilling his promise of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” making us poorer, less secure, less free, and less influential than we were when he came to office. 

You might not like the picture, but it’s exactly what the Russians and the Chinese see. It’s why they are moving their ships and marines toward the coast of Syria.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should consult Nostradamus to learn how this all will turn out? He seems to have superior credibility to Obama, and his quatrains are easier to understand than what's coming out of the White House.

And NOW, eight days aft his Saturday Rose Garden flip-flop, Obama is making the connection with Iran, and none too early with the Russians and Chinese joining in the fun (also Iranian allies). Nothing gets past our President. I tell you, Obama is a genius... we mere mortals just can't see it yet!

Can't you just see Obama in the Situation Room channeling his inner Stalin condescendingly asking "How many divisions does Pope Francis have?" Ours is yet another Lefty regime for the Vatican to outlive...

I'm starting to get this weird feeling that all this is not going to end well. In troubling times, I seek sage wisdom... What does Bono, Matt Damon or Beyonce think we should do?


Sam L. said...

Starting, Tip? Late to the party, you are.

I think there are only two outcomes: bad, and worse. Bad: Congress votes NO. Worse: Congress votes YES, and Barry demonstrates how incompetent he and his administration are.

M J R said...

The American mainstream media have managed to ummmm, manage the flow of information so that some portion of the American citizenry still sees our amateur-in-chief as "credible".

But on the world stage, the Americasn Mainstream media is of no effect. And on the world stage, the international "community" (such as it is) sees right through this presumed "leader"'s gaudy pretensions.


M J R said...

" . . . the American Mainstream media *filter* is of no effect."

Anonymous said...

I seriously doubt Obama is keen to start a war just to defend his own credibility. But of course it is always possible to "mind read" and assume we know the motives of others at any time! This is called a Theory of Mind and since we must all assume others have minds like our own, then the question is, how many motives of our own are taken into account, and how much doubt is generated, when we pretend to actually know the mind and motives of others?

Sam L. said...

I came up with a worst: Congress says NO, and then Barry goes and shows how incompetent he and his adminsstration are.

Anonymous said...

The Strategy eludes me. Lobbing missiles (now possibly air fleet bombing) accomplishes What? Only the ordinary people will suffer.

I respect the USAF. But even in WW2 it had its own agenda. Strategic Bombing. It bitterly resisted ground combat support, Eisenhower had to intervene. With temporary effect.

The A-10 Warthog, the finest air support plane ever built, was developed by a few AF mavericks. The AF is replacing it with the ultra-expensive, troubled, F-35.

Air Forces since Douhet have Always promised more than they can deliver.

I mention this because because AF generals are highly sophisticated at influencing POTUS's.

Our current one, w/no Executive, Foreign Policy, or Military experience, is probably more susceptible than most.

He (and his top staff, equally innocent) seem to think war can be waged from the Air alone. That would make the Folly of a 4th ME entanglement more palatable.

OK. Say we knock Assad out from the Air. Then what? -- Rich Lara

Anonymous said...

Strategic bombing in part means identify and destroy the factories and war machines of the enemy.

Get the enemy war machines and our troops gain a huge advantage due to superior machinery and assets.

Supporting troops on the ground would be part of strategic war if the troops are regarded as a resource one wants to identify and defend/sustain/preserve. Making sure the enemy cannot field well equipped troops makes the war a lot shorter!

The ground support from the air is based on communictions, radar, and other intelligence assets. The stand-off radar of a high flying jet which can "see over the horizon" is part of the ability to support low-flying A-10 warthogs, tanks, and troops on the ground.

Anonymous said...

W/respect, Air Superiority and the concomitant benefits of destroying enemy infrastructure & armies are tenets of 20th C warfare. The last time it was used was in 2003.

Altho, the collateral damages of WW2 Strategic Bombing were horrific. In Germany alone, well over 1M civilians were incinerated. 8th AF called Bomber Command "baby killers", but soon did the same.

It doesn't work w/adaptable guerilla enemies. IEDs, small unit ambushes, murderous moles, multiple street bombings, suicide bombers, heavy weapons in mosques, schools, and hospitals,, aren't v vulnerable to that strategy. Tho Drones are v effective.

I fear the day they get WMDs & nukes. I also loathe war w/equally sophisticated enemies. Probably the first thing they'd do is Fry our technologies w/high altitude Electromagnetic Pulse weapons.

But hey, it's easy for me to be an Armchair General. Best -- Rich Lara

Anonymous said...

The F-15 Air Dominator had lost only one of over 100 engagements at one point. The fleet is old and needs an upgraded replacement. The precision of bombs was much less accurate in WW2, and I think a few cities were bombed as acts of terror, to demoralize the enemy, and not to take out capacity of the enemy to make war. Some experts say we should have bombed German train lines and factories to better advantage to shorten the war, but I don't know if any AF generals had that idea at the time.

The kind of guerilla defenses you mention are effective but it still helps the troops on the ground to first dominate the air, and the first thing to do is take out the strategic assets and get air dominance, before sending troops with lower air support. Go in without air dominance and the troops have it much worse.

A smart grid with multiple energy generators and isolation regions that decouple from the grid and keep power flowing locally in an grid failure, might be an effective defense against impulse weapons, however I have not done a study.

Anonymous said...

I don't know the quality or provenance of the F-15 pilots' opponents. I suspect they were highly Inferior.

The only war Air Power has won on its own was against Serbia. Clinton bombed its infrastructure, which threatened mass deaths of civilians by disease, starvation, exposure, lack of medicine and medical care, and other horrors.

Armies win wars. The prime function of Air Forces in democracies like ours is to assist & protect our fellow citizen-soldiers.

At the dawn of the Air Age, American Generals worried that our Air Force would be as refractory, independent, and ungovernable as the Civil War Cavalry on both sides. In my view, they were correct to worry.

I doubt that "smart grids" would be useful in protecting our Navy fleets and individual warplanes. EMP weapons can be as small as a can of pop. Best -- Rich

Anonymous said...

Just do a google search of the F-15and hit Boeing or Wiki page. The machine and human factors engineering makes this aircraft superior.

The paper published in the Reagan years showed that two nukes exploded high over the US at certain choke points in the grid might take out most of the national grid. That would put our war efforts onto local grids and a smart grid, which is a distributed generation and consumption model with a grid connection that can be turned on or off, would appear to be more robust against EMPs and other concerns. But because people think the national risk free savings accounts at Treasury are "bad debt/savings" while the private risky savings accounts at banks are "good debt/savings" we can't use the credit of the federal government to accelerate the learning curve and get a modern electricity system. The firms owning the old assets have sunk costs and no incentive to replace the old stuff with newer equipment because investments are costly. Most of the grid and utilities we have now came from a tax policy where high income folks would pay 70-90% marginal tax rates or could put money into tax sheltered industries such as power and water ... effectively forcing private sector to invest in regulated monopolies or quasi-government regulated industries or pay over income to the government. Smart policy! An old-timer taught me this lesson on a money group thread.