Reprinted from Consortium News
From a "realist" perspective, there are plenty of reasons to criticize President Barack Obama's foreign policy, particularly his timidity in facing down Official Washington's dominant neoconservatives and liberal interventionists on Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine and even Syria -- but he also has done more to steer the country away from additional military disasters than other establishment politicians would have.
That is especially true as the Democratic Party prepares to nominate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as its choice to replace Obama. Throughout her public life, Clinton has demonstrated a pedestrian understanding of foreign policy and has consistently bowed to neocon/liberal-hawk orthodoxy, seeming to learn nothing from the Iraq War and other failures of military interventions.
In a recent interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Clinton scolded him for "conflating" her support for the catastrophic "regime change" war in Iraq with her insistence on the disastrous "regime change" war in Libya. In effect, she was saying that just because both decisions led to significant loss of life, failed states and terrorist control of large swaths of territory, the wars shouldn't be viewed as her failure to apply the lessons of Iraq to a similar situation in Libya. No "conflating" allowed.
By contrast, at several key moments, Obama has risen to the occasion, challenging some of the most dangerous "group thinks" of the foreign policy establishment, such as when he resisted the rush to judgment blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus. Obama rejected neocon/liberal-hawk demands for a punitive military assault on Assad's troops for supposedly crossing Obama's "red line."
Nearly all the Smart People of Washington wanted that bombing campaign even though the U.S. intelligence community did not have the evidence of Assad's guilt. The "group think" was that even if it wasn't clear that Assad and his military were responsible -- even if the attack was a provocation by jihadist rebels trying to trick the United States into joining the war on their side -- Obama should have hit Assad's forces anyway to maintain U.S. "credibility."
This know-nothingism of the Smart People -- this disdain for empiricism and realism -- was expressed on Friday by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen who castigated Obama for failing to launch U.S. airstrikes against the Syrian military in August 2013. Citing a series of interviews that Obama gave The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, Cohen suggested that nearly every bad thing since then can be blamed on Obama's inaction in Syria.
"Above all, did his decision in August 2013 not to uphold with force his 'red line' on the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons sound the death knell of American credibility, consolidate President Bashar al-Assad and empower [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin? 'I'm very proud of this moment,' Obama insists. Proud?
"It is possible to believe that the situation in Syria would be worse if Obama had followed through with punitive strikes. It is possible to believe that ISIS would have emerged, seized vast territory, beheaded Americans, rattled Paris and struck through sympathizers in San Bernardino anyway. It is possible to believe that Putin would have annexed Crimea anyway. It is possible to believe that Putin would have started a war in eastern Ukraine anyway. It is possible to believe that Assad would be stronger as a result of Russia's military intervention anyway. It is possible to believe that Saudi 'Obama-is-a-Shiite-in-the-pocket-of-Iran' derangement syndrome and Saudi war in Yemen would have occurred anyway. It is possible to believe that more than a million Syrian refugees would have shaken Europe anyway.
"It is possible to believe the moon is a balloon."
Ha-ha! "The moon is a balloon!" How clever! In other words, Cohen, someone so esteemed that he is awarded regular space on The New York Times op-ed page, someone who has suffered not one iota for supporting the Iraq War which arguably contributed much more to the world's disorders than anything Obama has or hasn't done, is pretending that all would have been set right if only Obama had ordered airstrikes on the Syrian military despite the lack of U.S. evidence that Assad and his forces were actually guilty.
Cohen must have missed -- or ignored -- the section of Goldberg's article citing how Obama was told by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that the U.S. intelligence community lacked "slam dunk" evidence confirming Assad's guilt, with Clapper choosing the phrase "slam dunk" to remind Obama of CIA Director George Tenet's "slam dunk" assurance to President George W. Bush that the intelligence community could back up his claims about Iraq's WMD, which, of course, turned out not to exist.
In other words, Clapper told Obama that the U.S. intelligence community didn't know who had carried out the sarin attack -- and subsequent evidence has pointed to a "false-flag" operation by rebel jihadists -- but the Smart People of Washington all wanted to launch a military strike anyway. It doesn't even matter to them that we now know that Obama's destruction of Assad's military could have opened the gates of Damascus to the forces of Al Qaeda's Nusra Front and/or the Islamic State.
And now that Obama says he is "proud" of his decision not to bomb first and get the facts later -- or as the President put it, to break with the "Washington playbook" of always relying on military force -- Cohen and other members of the foreign policy elite berate and ridicule him.