When Republicans and Democrats were locked in combat over the debt limit in 2011, President Obama famously warned Rep. Eric Cantor: “Don’t call my bluff.”
Looks like Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad didn’t get the memo. Bluffing is always risky business but trying to pull that stunt on a mad dog such as Bashir Assad is particularly dangerous. Wanna bet who is going to clean up in this high-stakes poker game?
No doubt when the president issued his original bluff—that use of chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” forcing the U.S. to reconsider our hands-off policy in Syria--he expected Assad to vamoose quicker than you can say Hosni Mubarak. The president seems not to have counted on Assad’s ruthlessness.
One Middle East expert (Lee Smith) has pointed out that the use of poison gas by Assad (or somebody) came almost a year to the day after President Obama’s “red line” boast. During that year, Syria has descended even further into a bloody civil war where there are few, if any good guys. While the US certainly has an interest in what happens in Syria, it is unclear how our involvement at this point would make a good outcome any more likely.
Yet the President’s bluff is out there. Surely this Nobel-peace winning President doesn’t want to have to make good on it. Yet he looks foolish if he ignores his own words. So he’ll likely take a half way measure—another bluff, if you will—which will be good for nothing but his own ego. By the time you read this, President Obama may well have lobbed a Cruise missile or two or three at some remote spot in the Syrian dessert (are there no handy aspirin factories in Syria?) But it is also looking increasingly possible that the President who can’t stop talking will simply keep talking about Syria. Indeed, the President gave Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff of PBS an interview earlier this week, pegged to the commemoration of the March on Washington, in which he spoke extensively about his ongoing Syria deliberations. It took him 478 words to say that he hasn’t made up his mind yet. Here’s some advice: Shut up.