Obama chooses the worst option

One of the worst situations for any political leader is to become a laughing stock. Even worse, when you are president of the United States, is the danger that the country will also become a laughing stock.

"Move not, unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical."

"No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle merely out of pique." (Sun Tzu, 'The Art of War', XII, 17 & 18)

Having run out of good options, President Obama has chosen one of the bad ones, perhaps the worst. He is being seen as pusillanimous and weak. He has become the butt of satires in "The New Yorker" and "The New York Times". One of the worst situations for any political leader is to become a laughing stock. Even worse, when you are president of the United States, is the danger that the country will also become a laughing stock.

When members of Congress of his own party began to join the Republicans in demanding that he should not take military action in Syria without the authorization of Congress, he reversed his previous position that he could do it on his own authority, and simultaneously signaled that he didn't consider the matter very important after all when he did not call Congress immediately back into session, but said he would wait until the end of their normal annual recess on September 9th to hold the vote

The last time a situation of similar seriousness occurred was back in 1961, when newly-elected president John F. Kenndy, having asked outgoing President Eisenhower not to launch the Bay of Pigs invasion but to let him do it, went ahead and sent the exile legion into battle but cancelled the naval and air support that Eisenhower had organized. The result was military disaster, a humiliating payment made to the Castro government to get the exile prisoners released, and finally, the world coming to the brink of nuclear war, when an emboldened Soviet Union decided to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, and in return for withdrawing them was able to extract from Kennedy a promise not to invade Cuba then or ever and to withdraw the missiles the US had in Turkey.

This lack of seriousness, coupled with the multiple leaks that have been coming out of the Administration over the past few weeks, have given the Syrian regime more than ample time to take defensive measures and redeploy assets. All this in order to perhaps, maybe, sometime, send a few rockets into Syria, to "punish" Assad for using chemical weapons which may have killed up to 1,000 people. So far no-one has explained why this is so much worse than his regime killing about 100,000 people by other means, or why it justifies military action when his father, Hafez el-Assad and Saddam Hussein gassed and killed thousands while the world looked on and did nothing.

The entire Arab world, as well as Iran, will see this pathetic performance as weakness, and will act accordingly, turning to other countries such as Russia for support. In the case of Israel, what it means is that the US cannot be counted on to prevent Iranian development of nuclear weapons, and thus strengthens the hands of those who believe that Israel should strike on its own. It reduces even further any chance of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority since US promises to enforce such a settlement will not be believed by either side.

Wherever he may be now, Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general from the fifth century bce, must be laughing.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, University of Haifa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 3, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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