It’s been a very bad week.
First of all, Obama, he’s my guy, but he’s really made a mess of this Syria thing. I’m afraid for him. I’m afraid he’s gotten himself into a position from which he can’t get out, or not without so much damage to his reputation that his ability to lead is seriously compromised. What I’m even more afraid of is that what is bad for him will be even worse for all of us.
It’s amazing what one stupid mistake will do.
Not only was it a stupid mistake. It was disingenuous. When he said that the Syrians using chemical weapons against their own people would be a red line for the United States, I’ll bet his aides winced. Never play your hand like that. Never say that if they do that, you’ll definitely do this. In my book, however, what is even worse, is that when he said this, he didn’t draw this line out of abhorrence of the use of chemical weapons (though I have no doubt that he does abhor their use). He said it to make himself sound strong at a time when he was being criticized for being too passive in the Middle East in general and in Syria in particular. He didn’t think the Syrians would really do it, but they called his bluff.
Now it’s all about saving face. He said he was going to do something and now he has to. If he doesn’t, he’s going to look weak, which in politics and world affairs is the same as being it. And take no joy from the fact that you may not be a supporter of our President, that you may not have voted for him, for if he is made to look weak and foolish, so then are all of us.
He shouldn’t have said it. He should have trusted in what he truly believed which was that the United States should stay out of the Syrian conflict. In this belief, he was in tune with the vast majority of the American people who are isolationist by temperament and war-weary by experience. But he was goaded by opponents’ criticism, reporters’ questioning and his own desire to look like a leader into saying something dangerous. He is now in the ironic and unenviable position of trying to convince a doubting public to support a strike that he never wanted to make in the first place.
Good luck with that. Though if there were any president who could go out there and sway people with his eloquence, it would be Obama. I hope he can do it, for his sake. I’ll have my fingers crossed for him on Tuesday night.
I highly doubt, however, that even a fantastic performance on nationwide television could sway certain members of Congress. Let’s face it. There are a good many representatives in Congress who wouldn’t support Obama if he tried to pass a resolution that we should all be nice to our mothers. What chance has he got in convincing them to start a military action in yet another country in the Middle East that is falling apart?
This all leaves us with several equally unpleasant possibilities.
Scenario 1) By some miracle, Obama gets Congressional approval and we go ahead and strike Syria. Do we know what is going to happen as a result? Of course not. It is impossible to know.
Scenario 2) Congress doesn’t give Obama approval and he goes ahead and does it anyway. (I cannot believe he would do this, but life is pretty unbelievable sometimes.) Not only do we not know what will happen in the form of retaliation by the Syrians and the jihadis, but we also now have a fatally weakened president who will not be able to get anything done in this country and will no longer be taken seriously on the world stage either.
Scenario 3) Congress doesn’t give their approval and Obama goes back into the White House, shuts the doors and sits down to lick his wounds. There will be no war, but the very people who may have retaliated are now emboldened to do many of the same things they would have done if a strike had taken place while we have a president who no one will take seriously either at home or abroad.
We need a miracle here, a lightning bolt, a parting of the sea.
As if all this weren’t enough, the New York Times reported last week that in addition to reading e-mails and listening to phone calls, the NSA can break through the encryption of any financial transaction you may make. Remember thinking that your bank transactions were private and your purchases from Victoria’s Secret or pharmacies in Canada were entirely your affair? Well, you can forget about all of that. They know everything, what you’re wearing under your conservative suit, what you’re swallowing with your vitamins.
About the only hopeful thing that happened this week occurred yesterday in London. In an age of anytime-anywhere surveillance and security agencies knowing exactly who you are and what you are doing at any minute of the day, security at Buckingham Palace approached Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, out for a walk in the palace gardens, and asked him to identify himself.
They didn’t recognize him!
Although this is not a very good advertisement for the royal security detail and I can imagine extra training sessions already in place (with plenty of photographs, “This is the Queen.”), it does offer one a fragile ray of hope. Not everyone knows who everyone else is (even when they’re, ahem, supposed to). There are still some places left where twenty people in a command center hundreds of miles away are not watching you cross the street with your Chihuahua.
If a prince can go out for a walk in gardens of his own home and not be recognized, then there’s hope for the rest of us.
Anonymity may still just be possible.