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Sep 10 2013

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Obama’s “Messaging” Meltdown on Syria

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Coherence - Lost in the Shuffle...

Coherence – Lost in the Shuffle…

It was Karl Marx who said that, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Little did we know that the Obama administration would manage to fit the maxim into a single news cycle with its spastic policy navigation on Syria.

What has become one of the most surreal-bordering-on-bizarre periods in US foreign policy showed no signs of abating yesterday, as the President and his top advisors went into overdrive to sell a skeptical Congress and nation on the value of attacking Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who appears to be genetically incapable of staying on script, created more complications for the President by unilaterally redefining the nature of a possible US strike on Syria as “unbelievably small.” This of course immediately raised the question about what such a conjured strike would actually accomplish in such a diminished form. A peeved John McCain, who is trying his level best to help the President on Syria, despite the manifest confusion, tweeted his frustration. “Kerry says #Syria strike would be “unbelievably small” – that is unbelievably unhelpful.” 

It was left to POTUS to walk back his Secretary of State by stating, “The United States does not do pinpricks.” But that was hardly the end of the confusion. Taking to the air on six network news programs, all broadcast last evening, the President’s answers on Syria failed the test of clarity and purpose. The Washington Post summarized the policy confusion this morning by stating that, “In… interviews Monday, Obama acknowledged that he cannot be certain that the [Syria] strikes would be as limited and as powerful as predicted. But he said it was critical for the United States to hold Assad accountable and send a global message that the use of poison gas as a weapon of war will not be tolerated.”

So we are back to doing anything to do something? But that is not the only challenge.

At the G-20 last week, Obama said that he sought congressional authority for the strike because, “I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons…pose an imminent, direct threat to the United States.”

OK, best intentions and all that.

But, now having chosen to seek authority, the President confessed last night that, “I wouldn’t say I’m confident” that Congress will pass a resolution authorizing a strike.  As president, how can you put such a grave matter before Congress without an expectation of approval?

 Indeed, given the importance that the president attaches to the strike, what happens if Congress disapproves?  Last Friday, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said, “It’s neither his desire nor intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him;” that authority being vested in Obama’s role as Commander-in-Chief. Yet last evening, on NBC, POTUS said that he was “undecided” on whether he would strike Syria without congressional support.

So what is it? Is this whole congressional exercise a charade? Does POTUS understand that there will be profound, constitutional repercussions of a military strike if the Congress expressly votes against it?

But if anything symbolized the stunning hubris and insularity of this White House as it rolls out its public relations strategy in support of the Syrian strikes, it was the public appearances of both the National Security Advisor and former Secretary of State on the same day.

We will remember Susan Rice as the then UN Ambassador, who in the heat of a presidential campaign was rolled out to do five Sunday morning talk shows, reading CIA talking points that said the Benghazi terrorist attack was nothing more than a mob gone bad – a line the White House adhered to for weeks, even though the truth was known in real-time.  Yesterday, there she was again – now as National Security Adviser –  talking about Syria and reading CIA talking points.

Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton joined the fray as well, endorsing POTUS’s call for strikes on Syria. Yes, the same Hillary who, when queried by a congressional panel on Benghazi last year erupted in indignation by saying, “What difference does it make?”

Two senior Obama administration officials. Both with strong links to the Benghazi disaster that crippled the Administration’s credibility, now deployed to bolster the Administration’s case for Syria – where the intelligence, policy and strategy are all in question –  two days before the anniversary of the Benghazi attack.

Who on earth is in charge at the White House comms shop?  Who thought this was a constructive idea? Indeed, apparently without irony, the Administration is sending Rice up to Capitol Hill – on 9-11 – to brief lawmakers, doubling down on a horrendous decision to give her such a prominent role in the first place.

This is what is supposed to build confidence in Congress and among the people for the Obama strategy?

It is sadly possible that the Administration, through serial mistakes solely of their own making, have dug a ditch so deep that not even a presidential address will move the ball in their favor.

We will find out tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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