Wednesday in Stockholm, Reuters reporter Steve Holland asked President Obama, "Have you made up your mind whether to take action against Syria whether or not you have a congressional resolution approved? Is a strike needed in order to preserve your credibility for when you set these sort of red lines?"
Addressing just the second question, Obama replied, "Let me unpack the question. First of all, I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated that in a piece of legislation titled the Syria Accountability Act that some of the horrendous thing that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for. And so, when I said, in a press conference, that my calculus about what's happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn't something I just kind of made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There was a reason for it. That's point number one. Point number two, my credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line. And America and Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important."
Let's do some unpacking of our own. First, Obama absolutely is the one who created a red line out of thin air on Syria. Here is what he said on Aug. 12, 2012: "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation." (Emphasis added.)
"A red line for us." "My calculus." "My equation." As of August 2012, there was no doubt in Obama's mind whose red line it was.
And there was no doubt anywhere else in the Obama administration, either. Here is White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on May 6: "The President’s use of the term 'red line' was deliberate and was based on U.S. policy." And here is a "White House official" on an official White House conference call on April 15: "The President has set a clear red line as it relates to the United States that the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups is a red line that is not acceptable to us, nor should it be to the international community."
Who drew the red line is not some esoteric question. It goes to the heart of the Syria debate. Are the interests of the United States served by bombing Syria, or is the real purpose in bombing Syria to rehabilitate Obama's credibility in the world?
If a limited mission as Obama proposes somehow advanced legitimate U.S. national interests overseas, then it might be worth it. But the only thing to be accomplished by Obama's approach is to help restore his tattered credibility. And Obama's credibility is not synonymous with that of the United States.
Obama will not be president forever. America's standing in the world suffered when Jimmy Carter was president. But Carter eventually left office. So will Obama.
From the Washington Examiner
Ashe Schow: Democratic leadership more pro-war than GOP leadership
Tim Carney: The unwisdom of attacking Syria, in five links
Susan Ferrechio: Senate panel approves resolution authorizing strike in Syria while House remains skeptical
David Drucker: House GOP to let Democratic Senate vote first on Syria
Tim Mak: Administration briefing does little to change opinions on Syria strike
Susan Crabtree: Vladimir Putin taunts Obama over Syria, ahead of G20
Rebecca Berg: GOP campaign committee sidelines finance director as fundraising lags
Brian Hughes: Syria push distracts from Obamacare -- and Dems don't mind
Gregory Kane: Memo to Russell Simmons
Cal Thomas: There stands Eric Holder, blocking the schoolhouse door
Phil Klein: Assad can be removed, but what comes after him?
In Other News
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Car Sales Soar to Pre-Slump Level
The New York Times: Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West
McClatchy Newspapers: Bill Clinton offers case for Obamacare
Boston Herald: U.S. Sen. Ed Markey votes "present" on key Syria resolution
Reuters: Putin says Kerry lied
The Los Angeles Times: U.N. chief says only Security Council can order airstrikes on Syria
Bloomberg: Fracking boom seen raising household incomes by $1,200
Brian Beutler: GOP’s heartless new scheme to prevent uninsured from getting care
Jonathan Cohn: Bill Clinton Explains Obamacare
Digby: Kabuki authorization