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Obama Vs. Goliath

The WaPo has been counting votes on the Congressional resolution backing Obama’s Syria war plan, and the odds are terrible for the president.  If every House member who is committed to vote “no” (111) sticks by their vote, and picks up every House member identified as “leaning no” (115), the resolution will fail. For the White House to win this one, it needs to hold on to every one of the 23 (only!) House members who have publicly declared for military action, get every single one of the 182 undecideds — and flip 10 of the No or Leaning No crowd.

This is not going to happen.

I’m not sure where Ross Douthat stands on the Syrian war, but if he’s an Obama backer — as I think he is — he’s the most reluctant one in Washington. Excerpt from his column on the fiasco the president has created for himself and the country:

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.

This is not an argument that justifies voting for a wicked or a reckless war, and members of Congress who see the Syria intervention in that light must necessarily oppose it.

But if they do, they should be prepared for the consequences: a damaged president, a potentially crippled foreign policy and a long, hard, dangerous road to January 2017.

I understand that Obama would be crippled as a foreign policy leader for the rest of his term, but I’m finding it hard to believe that this is a worse outcome than the alternative if Obama wins, and America continues the foreign policy that has been so ruinous for us since 9/11. I mean, I would rather have neither outcome, but one bad one is worse than the other bad one.

My sense is that if Congress repudiates the President, it had better try to find a way to let him save face, else he may feel compelled to launch the strike on Syria anyway — and the consequences for America would be far worse.

In light of Ross’s concerns, consider Andrew Bacevich’s remarks on the Moyers show the other night, regarding President Obama’s loss of credibility, and what the deeper lesson is in this for US Mideast policy:

Well, I think, one point there is that in many respects, this crisis is being driven by domestic politics. I think the president did make a mistake in drawing that red line. I suspect the president actually understands he made a mistake.

And then when Assad called its bluff, as it were, the president finds him in a … the president finds himself in the position where yes, he’s got to do something to restore his credibility. Well, when you think about it’s not going to restore any credibility. I mean, when you think about it, is credibility worth going to war for?

When you think about it, if indeed American credibility in that part of the world is kind of low right now, is it because the president drew a red line and didn’t act? Or could it be because of the folly of American wars in places like Iraq? I mean, will bombing Syria make the memory of Iraq go away?

Well, the memory of Iraq has already gone away in the eye– in– for most Americans. But is it going to cause people in the Arab world or the broader Islamic world to forget Iraq and all the chaos that we created? I mean, I’m struck by the fact that we’re having this sort of national hoop-dee-doo about Syria on the front page of the paper. If you turn back to page five or page seven, you’ll get the latest dispatch out of Baghdad. “Bombs going off in Baghdad, killing 65.” Is there any relevance to that continuing story coming out of Iraq to the prospect of Syria? Seems to me there ought to be. I mean, the last time we persuaded ourselves that we needed to act in Iraq, we produced a disaster.

Now some number of Americans paid for that disaster in terms of soldiers killed, lives shattered. Far, far greater numbers of Iraqis paid for that disaster and are still paying for that disaster. So the conversation about Syria is far too narrow. It needs to be expanded to include some of these other military misadventures that we have undertaken.

And I think it needs to be expanded to include fraudulent relationship between the American military and American society. Which allows our political leaders to go off on these wild goose chases while the American people basically stand by mute.

American credibility was shot before Obama shot his mouth off about the red line. We seem to have stumbled into the national discussion we ought to have had in 2008. Rand Paul, this is your moment.

UPDATE: The NYT’s vote tracker finds the numbers are somewhat more favorable to the President’s position.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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