Don’t join in the narcissistic tantrum

Generally, I find I agree with Walter Russell Mead. In this case, I do not. Mr. Mead:

It is precisely the President’s credibility as a spokesman for the “international community” (whatever that is) and for US foreign policy that is glaringly and horribly on the line. An effective leader would have consulted with key people in Congress and made sure of his backing before making explicit threats of force. Now the President is twisting lonesomely in the wind, and the question is whether Congress will ride to the rescue. If it doesn’t, it will be the closest thing the American system has to a parliamentary vote of “no confidence”, where Congress explicitly declares to the world that the President of the United States does not speak for the country.

The clear implication of not issuing a “vote of no confidence” is a vote of confidence. Should Congress have confidence Mr. Obama will not waste a vote of confidence? Mr. Obama’s confidence in, and respect for, Congress has been demonstrated by his insistence that the vote is actually unnecessary, and that he feels free to ignore it. Given that, he can fix his own problem. Mr. Mead acknowledges (see below) that President Clinton did just that, but does not explain why president Obama cannot.

Congressional approval of the President’s fecklessness will neither improve his credibility nor enhance the reputation of Congress. If Congress is railroaded into supporting the president based on a mistake he refuses to acknowledge, what message does that send?

Bombs falling on Syria will only rescue the president’s credibility if they fall to some purpose, some strategic objective. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff can’t name one. Congress should support military intervention that has no strategic point solely because not doing so would embarrass the president? That’s the message? How does that not embarrass the United States?

Even if you accept “he’s incompetent, but he’s OUR incompetent” as the best message we can send under the circumstances, the credibility enhancement will disappear when Obama next goes off teleprompter. What about the next time he fails to make “sure of his backing before making explicit threats of force?” What if he draws a red-line on Russian warships in proximity to Syria?

That would be very dangerous. Foreigners will no longer know when and whether to take anything this President says as representing American policy rather than his own editorial opinions. We hate to say it, but that is so dangerous that there’s a strong argument for Congress to back the Syria resolution simply to avoid trashing the credibility of the only President we’ve got.

This argument is logical only if you assume foreigners now know whether to take anything the president says seriously. Even if you are credulous enough to accept that, it only supports voting for Obama’s Syria resolution if giving free rein to his future off the cuff remarks is less dangerous than the alternative.

If Congress declines to support what even proponents of a Syria strike must agree is a massively screwed up policy, then the President will face another choice. He can do a “Clinton” (President Clinton bombed Serbia in the teeth of congressional disapproval), or he can fold like a cheap suit. If he chooses the latter course, Clint Eastwood’s “empty chair” stunt at the 2012 GOP convention will look eerily prophetic.

Because of the president’s loose tongue and disregard for the rule of law, the choice is between the Clinton cheap suit and the emperor’s lack of clothes. It is not a choice the Congress of United States can fix on behalf of a president who cannot be trusted to execute a coherent policy. Mr. Mead does not explain how a vote to assuage the president’s narcissistic panic can restore presidential credibility. He seems to assume that Obama will learn and change. I have little hope.

“Clint Eastwood’s “empty chair” stunt” is now conventional wisdom. Congress can’t change that, either.

Foreigners will no longer know when and whether to take anything this President says as representing American policy rather than his own editorial opinions. We hate to say it, but that is so dangerous that there’s a strong argument for Congress to back the Syria resolution simply to avoid trashing the credibility of the only President we’ve got.

Can Barack “I didn’t draw a red-line” Obama suddenly become credible because he wins a vote he says he doesn’t need and might reject? Is the United States suddenly a credible ally because Congress shows it will support presidential incompetence?

Or is such a vote more likely to reduce our allies confidence and increase the danger of a wider conflagration?

Short term memory problem

The biggest single argument against following from in front of our president on Syria (or anything else) is not his demonstrated incompetence, it’s that he is a brazen, congenital liar.
Obama on Syria: ‘I didn’t set a red line’ … ‘My credibility is not on the line’

It’s like the president is unaware of the invention of video recording. The credibility of Congress is what’s in question, because Obama spoke without a teleprompter?

Congress should not give him approval to attack Syria because he’s already blaming them for a vote they haven’t taken. A vote he said he didn’t need. A vote he has said he will ignore if he doesn’t like the outcome. Given his record of selecting the laws he will enforce, he cannot be trusted to abide by Congressional restrictions in any case. There is no point in participating in this farce.

He is correct in one sense: His credibility isn’t on the line because he has none. Blaming everyone in the world for his screw-ups isn’t the way to fix that.


John Kerry today defended Barack Obama’s surprise decision to ask Congress to share blame take a non-binding vote on Obama’s threat to mildly attack Syria. According to Kerry, it’s about American credibility (which apparently would not have benefited from Congressional approval prior to Friday evening):

The president then made the decision that he thought we would be stronger and the United States would act with greater moral authority and greater strength if we acted in a united way.
-John Kerry

A post on this at Althouse elicited the comment of the day from wildswan:

If someone killed an American ambassador and we did nothing – then would we lose credibility?
If we suddenly dumped an ally who was a corrupt dictator in his twentieth year of being a corrupt dictator – would we lose credibility?
If we publicly insulted an old reliable ally – would we lose credibility?
If we stood by while the Moslem Brotherhood burned Christian churches and shot Christian priests – would we lose credibility?

Well, as far as I know it is the position of the White House that if a President allowed any of those (admittedly unlikely) things to happen or even if he allowed all of them together, none of them would affect American credibility or prestige. And so I think the same is true of doing nothing about Syrians killing each other.

And I think the President would mess up any action Congress did authorize just as he messed up the killing of Bin Laden by exposing methods and the names of secret operatives. And he messed up the good results of the surge in Iraq. And he instantly stabbed Kerry in the back when Kerry advocated Obama’s own policy of launching an attack on Syria. And he’ll stab the military if Congress approves an attack. So even if getting into Syria was a good idea it would not be a good idea under this President.

Remember, the president’s decision to ask Congress for a vote was taken after he denied he needed Congress and blustered about attacking on his own, after he dispatched five warships to Syria and after he sent Kerry out to make the case for an attack on Thursday. I guess that’s called leading from behind the curve.

Read the whole post at Althouse.