Last March, President Barack Obama spoke about how Syria’s use of chemical weapons would be a “game-changer.” It has, except not quite in the sense that he meant. It has been an event that has confused and confounded the Obama administration. Whatever your views on the larger issues, it’s hard not to conclude that the administration’s handling of Syria over the last year has been a case study in how not to do foreign policy.
The president started out with an understanding that the Syrian conflict is a messy sectarian struggle that cannot be influenced easily by American military intervention. He was disciplined in resisting calls to jump into a cauldron. But from the start he confused and undermined this policy with loose rhetoric, perhaps egged on by some of his advisors and critics to “do something.”
So he announced just over two years ago that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had to go. Now a pundit can engage in grandiose speech. The president of the United States should make declarations like this only if he has some strategy to actually achieve them. He did not.