Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
It will be many years before we see all the documents released related to the Obama Administration’s decision to send in the SEALS to apprehend Osama bin Laden, but as we watch the President dance around making a decision on Syria, one wonders what it was like in the White House before that mission was launched in Pakistan. While clearly the two issues are very different, there seems to be a decision making skittishness which Obama continues to exhibit which does not demonstrate presidential leadership; regardless of what the decision will be; domestic as well as foreign.
There is no suggestion here that the decision as to how to address the Syrian tragedy compounded now by the use of chemical weapons is easy; but there is no manifestation of leadership, only cautious, evaluation leading to more considerations and mistake avoidance. There will be no good decision here only a less bad one. There will be no timely decision here only finally doing something. The U.S. will have egg on its face for its procrastination for a considerable time to come and U.S. red lines are suffering from ridicule throughout the world.
Presidents need to bite the bullet sometimes. Presidents need to consult but not have the entire world debate in the media what might, could, should, or would have been done. No one should assume that the decision is easy, but this Administration has consistently failed almost every test in effective presidential decision-making. (For the first time it is becoming reasonable for the Israelis to worry about Iran—unless the Pentagon chiefs will control that decision.)
To be clear there is a process of consultation which is vital; with our Allies, with the U.N., with the Arab League, with NATO, and especially with Congress. Everyone will not and must not agree. It has been going on so long now that some Members of Congress are calling for at least a resolution on the use of force from Congress, while various allies are still fence siting. Now the issue has become as to where is the smoking gun. Who in Syria gave the order to use the chemical weapons? This effort to avoid the non-credible approach used by the Bush Administration in the case of Iraq appears not to bear any comparability to the current situation, but it is a cloud overhanging the Syria decision making process as well.
The longer the process continues the worse it will be for the President. This indecision—regardless of what the precise military decision will eventually be–is a decision which could be extraordinarily damaging and dangerous for the balance of the Obama Administration.