Expanded intervention in Syria's civil war? The promised "red line" punitive strike? An equivocal pause for congressional rumination? Ambiguous postponement? Or... a "Saturday Night Live" Emily Litella "never mind" skit on the world stage -- farcical incompetence an obscene response to obscene tragedy?
The five preceding sentence fragments framed as questions sketch five potential near-term futures, each either created by or now operationally constrained by President Barack Obama's Aug. 20, 2012 "red line" declaration. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they could all occur. Near-simultaneity would be difficult, but given this past week's combination of Keystone Kops and kabuki, don't say it can't happen.
I realize at least a dozen commentators regard doing nothing as a policy option. In terms of Obama's self-bogged Syrian quagmire -- and his mess is a quagmire -- the Emily Litella "never mind" outcome is "do nothing" stripped of spin. I'm sorry, but for the president of the United States there is no doing nothing and there is no never mind. America's enemies and adversaries, and we have them, in abundance, constantly gauge American will and their estimate of the president is a key indicator.
The president of the United States threatened Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad with war. Yes, he did. Punitive air strikes are acts of war. JDAM bombs are not surgical scalpels. "Never mind" to the ear of a mass-murdering tyrant, especially after threatening him with war, echoes Neville Chamberlain's post-Munich 1938 laugh line: "Peace in our time."
France remembers the genocidal catastrophe that followed Munich. Remember France, the other nation in Obama's coalition of the willing, after Britain quit? Suddenly the "Bush lied, people died" media elites realize George W. Bush's Iraq coalition had 40 members -- so let's not talk about diplomatic preparation for military action, not right now, too embarrassing.
Obama promised to restore America's international reputation. Has he? In an interview published earlier this week in Le Monde, retired French General Vincent Desportes made the 1930s connection. At the moment Desportes is the Professor of Strategy at the Paris School of International Affairs. He also served as military attache in Washington. That's a sharp-guy job. It tells us that the French government trained him to be an America expert. When required, Desportes is expected to provide an alternative diplomatic conduit to senior American officials in both the Pentagon and the State Department.
Even if you dispute my read on his background, his comments in Le Monde are both disturbing and damning.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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