‘Anti-war Obama’ faces his Syria moment

‘Anti-war Obama’ faces his Syria moment

To hear him tell it, no one is more tired of war than Barack Obama — yet the US president is warning that combat fatigue must not get in the way of a new US military escapade in the Middle East.
Ironies abound as Obama contemplates US airstrikes on Syria, an operation that will show how a president’s early ideas about wielding power can be reshaped by the dilemmas of office. Once, candidate Obama chastised George W. Bush for a “cowboy” foreign policy, an “imperial” presidency, and for alienating allies and taking America into war with cooked intelligence.
After once promising to go to war only with an international coalition and with backing from Congress, Obama stands almost alone, dumped by America’s closest ally Britain, and is snubbing the UN and bucking public opinion.
Connoisseurs of incongruity may also note that Obama’s main military ally in the Syrian adventure figures to be France, the target of endless bile from Americans when it rejected Bush’s invitation to help invade Iraq.
Obama has spent two years trying to keep out of Syria, to spare his nation a new Middle East quagmire — but is now being accused of rushing to war — after the administration declared that a UN team inspection team’s mission there was irrelevant in establishing culpability for a chemical weapons attack last week.
It is also ironic that a politician who made a career on opposing the Iraq war, finds his efforts to sell a new regional operation complicated by that disastrous conflict.
“Iraq has so fundamentally shattered the trust the American people have in the president when it comes to war and peace that it makes doing the right thing, frankly, much harder,” said a former senior Obama national security aide. Obama said Friday he knew Americans were tired of conflict abroad.
“Nobody ends up being more war-weary than me,” said Obama, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy.”
But Secretary of State John Kerry added: “fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.”
The contradictions of the Syrian drama, and the fact that he wants his legacy to be that of a president who got America out of wars, not into new ones, appeared to consume Obama for days. Aides have repeatedly told journalists that the “president has not made a decision” — styling their boss’s agonizing as the act of a sober leader weighing his not very good options.
Obama has seen his preference for a UN-endorsed mission to punish President Bashar Assad’s regime thwarted by a recalcitrant Russia — and the usual double act with “special relationship” buddy Britain was sensationally dashed by the House of Commons.
But he knows going it alone carries a price.
Many observers in Washington believe a Syrian campaign will only be waged because of what they see as a mistake.
Obama’s credibility is in question because he declared that the use of a “whole bunch” of chemical weapons by Assad in the civil war would cross a US red line.
• AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
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