William Katz:  Urgent Agenda






SYRIA – AT 8:42 A.M. ET:  One of the major deficiencies in this administration is the president's inability to communicate with the American people.  A brilliant campaigner, he has been a mumbler as president.  Even allies are dismayed by his inability, or refusal, to explain his goals and programs.  Every speech sounds like that of a man running for office, rather than a man carrying out his office.

And so we come to a crossroads in Syria, with it now reasonably clear that a massive chemical attack was carried out last week by the Assad regime.  But having never engaged the American people on the subject, Obama is facing a wall of opposition to any American intervention.  From Reuters: 

(Reuters) - Americans strongly oppose U.S. intervention in Syria's civil war and believe Washington should stay out of the conflict even if reports that Syria's government used deadly chemicals to attack civilians are confirmed, a Reuters/Ipsos poll says.

About 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria's civil war, while just 9 percent thought President Barack Obama should act.

More Americans would back intervention if it is established that chemical weapons have been used, but even that support has dipped in recent days - just as Syria's civil war has escalated and the images of hundreds of civilians allegedly killed by chemicals appeared on television screens and the Internet.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken August 19-23, found that 25 percent of Americans would support U.S. intervention if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemicals to attack civilians, while 46 percent would oppose it. That represented a decline in backing for U.S. action since August 13, when Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls found that 30.2 percent of Americans supported intervention in Syria if chemicals had been used, while 41.6 percent did not.

COMMENT:  We stress that intervention is a grave step.  The commitment of any American force, even a standoff warship firing missiles, should be made only after any other possibility is exhausted, and then only if the direct interests of the United States are involved.   War is always great on the first day, before the casualty reports come in.  But we may, in the end, have to act, which means Mr. Obama may have to climb down from Mount Olympus and explain why Syria is important to the United States, and why the use of WMD is such a critical step anywhere in the world.

There are no good options in Syria.  There is no noble side to join.  The Syrian government is genocidal.  The opposition is shot through with jihadists.  We were too late. 

Obama said that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line.  That red line was breached much earlier, and he ignored his own warning.  There is an old saying in international politics:  "If you say you're going to take Vienna, take Vienna."  The credible threat of force is often the greatest peacemaker.  We lost our credibility in the handling of the Syrian crisis early on, and now we're paying a price. 

August 25, 2013