During World War II, the United States produced a series of propaganda films called “Why We Fight” explaining why we were fighting and what we were fighting for. They were propaganda, but it was the government keeping the public informed and supportive of the war effort at home and abroad. It was a time when communication was much slower and far more limited, but there was communication. Today, not so much.
As we march off to a possible war with Syria, or a bombing, or a kinetic military action, or whatever the official White House “re-worders” pull from the thesaurus to describe it, we are still left to wonder why.
President Obama’s love of the trappings of the job of president have been well documented, and his distaste for the actual work that goes with it also has gotten its share of ink. But that distaste never has been much of an issue before. In the case of Syria it is.
Previously in times of conflict, presidents either aggressively sought and got congressional and public approval for military action (H.W. & W. Bush), or they acted quickly, then explained after the fact (Reagan, Clinton). The former strategy is the norm for longer conflicts and the latter for shorter or one-time actions. Where Syria falls on this scale remains to be seen.
In Libya, President Obama didn’t seek congressional approval; he just acted. But instead of the “short-term” action category we were told to expect – “days, not weeks, remember – it lasted months and cost billions.
Originally, President Obama was set to act on his own on Syria too – a quick slap across the face of the regime for using chemical weapons – but then, inexplicably, the man who loves being president but isn’t a fan of the presidency got cold feet. And the reason remains a mystery.
When President Reagan attacked Libya to punish Muammar Gaddafi for the bombing of a German disco that killed an American soldier, the nation knew something was going to happen – we just didn’t know what or when. We were told the “what” when it had happened. That allowed for the element of surprise, which nearly killed Gaddafi. That was leadership.
We know the “why” of Syria, but President Obama’s fecklessness have left the what and when muddled. Had the president launched a quick, punitive attack within a day or two of learning of the chemical attack, a national address saying basically, “Hey, I warned them beforehand. They used them, so we hit them,” would have sufficed.