Reprinted from Wallwritings
Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic essay, "The Obama Doctrine," opens with two contrasting conclusions which could be drawn from events on Friday, August 30, 2013.
It was either the day Barack Obama "brought to a premature end America's reign as the world's sole indispensable superpower," or it was the day Barack Obama "peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void."
In President Obama's mind, August 30, 2013, "was his liberation day, the day he defied not only the foreign-policy establishment and its cruise-missile playbook, but also [defied] the demands of America's frustrating, high-maintenance allies in the Middle East.
Barack Obama's presidential "liberation day" began with a "thundering speech" given on his behalf by Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Kerry's uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks" were delivered in the State Department's Treaty Room. It dealt with the gassing of Syrian civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
In his remarks, Kerry said Assad should be punished, in part, because the "credibility and the future interests of the United States of America and our allies" were at stake.
"It is directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the United States when it says something. They are watching to see if Syria can get away with it, because then maybe they too can put the world at greater risk."
The Pentagon and the White House's national-security team believed President Obama was ready to attack President Assad for "crossing the red line" by gassing civilians. Goldberg reports that "John Kerry told me he was expecting a strike the day after his speech."
The President was preparing for an attack. Privately, however, he had "come to believe that he was walking into a trap -- one laid both by allies and by adversaries, and by conventional expectations of what an American president is supposed to do."
Late in the afternoon, President Obama "determined that he was simply not prepared to authorize a strike." He asked Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, to take a walk with him on the South Lawn of the White House.
"Obama did not choose McDonough randomly: He is the Obama aide most averse to U.S. military intervention, and someone who, in the words of one of his colleagues, 'thinks in terms of traps.' ...Obama and McDonough shared a long-standing resentment.
"They were 'tired of watching Washington unthinkingly drift toward war in Muslim countries. Four years earlier, the president believed, the Pentagon had 'jammed' him on a troop surge for Afghanistan. Now, on Syria, he was beginning to feel jammed again.'
"When the two men came back to the Oval Office, the president told his national-security aides that he planned to stand down. There would be no attack the next day; he wanted to refer the matter to Congress for a vote. Aides in the room were shocked..."
What led to this decision by the President?