So Much for a "Nuanced" Foreign Policy

Carol Platt Liebau
Posted: May 05, 2013 9:53 PM

I thought it was George W. Bush who was supposed to be the intemperate, shoot-from-the-lip cowboy in The White House. You know -- they guy without nuance, who spoke before he thought . . . 

So how to explain this piece on the front page of this morning's NY Times: "Off the Cuff Obama Line puts US in Bind in Syria"?  It's a lengthy explication of how Obama's big line about Syria crossing a "red line" by using nuclear weapons was actually something the President blurted out, and which now presents a not-insignificant complication for US foreign policy.

It's a tiresome exercise in media hypocrisy, but just imagine the kind of hellfire that would rain down from the heights of the Times editorial board had George W. Bush made such an error.  We'd never hear the end of it.  Instead, we get delicate excuse-making, and a detailed explanation about how such a nuanced, cerebral President could have made such an error.

About the now-famous "red line":

“The idea was to put a chill into the Assad regime without actually trapping the president into any predetermined action,” said one senior official, who, like others, discussed the internal debate on the condition of anonymity. But “what the president said in August was unscripted,” another official said. Mr. Obama was thinking of a chemical attack that would cause mass fatalities, not relatively small-scale episodes like those now being investigated, except the “nuance got completely dropped.”

Don't you love that first sentence?  In other words, administration policy was to try to scare Assad by some tough talk without ever planning to follow through.  But now, thanks to the President's "unscripted" ad-lib, the "nuance" of this (pathetic) position was lost -- and the impression was given that the US was actually serious about Syria not using chemical weapons and intended to back it up with something more than tough words.

And then here's a bit of inspirational ethics:

Mr. Obama’s advisers also raised legal issues. “How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” another official said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

One needn't advocate that America police every international or civil dispute to find something chilling about that callous dismissal of a leader condemning his own people to an ugly, awful death.

Ultimately, it's hard to decide which is more embarrassing: The President's rookie mistake itself, or the moral and strategic vacuousness of the official administration policy of "all tough talk, no action ever intended" that it actually reveals.