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British Snub Obama on Syria

Posted by Steve Markowitz on August 30, 2013

In a surprise move the British Parliament yesterday voted to not join America on any military strike on Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons on civilians.  This is the first time in three decades that the British government has failed to join United States on such a mission.  While there are legitimate policy concerns relating to the strategic value of an attack, this Blog wonders whether the British Parliament decided to embarrass President Obama in response to his not attending the funeral earlier this year a former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Irrespective of the UK’s reasons, its decision to snub Obama on the potential attack on Syria is a huge embarrassment to the President.  During the campaign for his first term Obama accused his predecessor, President George W. Bush, of being a cowboy on foreign policy.  Obama proffered the view that with his charisma this go alone policy will no longer be needed as other countries will cooperate with the United States and Obama’s kumbaya approach to foreign relations.  Obama’s general failure on the foreign policy front and embarrassing vote by the UK Parliament demonstrates how naïve the President is on foreign policy.  For all of his flaws, George W. Bush was able to put together large coalitions backing American policies.  Obama does not even have the ability to get our closest allies on board.

Even with the lack of support from other countries the Administration has said it will continue down the path of preparing for a military strike on Syria.  It has also refused to bring Congress into the debate before making a decision.  This is a remarkable position for Obama given a 2007 statement he made to the Boston Globe: “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation”. He also added that the president can only act unilaterally in “instances of self-defense,” which is clearly not the case with the current situation in Syria.

The Constitution has not changed since 2007.   However, Obama is now the president.  His changing position the power to make war matches other actions that he is taken since becoming president that have ignored the Constitution.

In another example of an Obama flip-flop, before being elected he chided the Bush administration for not using the United Nations as the global police force.  However, since becoming president he has bypassed the UN, most recently on the issue of Syria.

President Obama boxed himself into a corner one year ago when he publicly announced a redline to Syria.  He stated that if chemical weapons were used it would demand American intervention/retaliation.  That threat should have been made through private channels instead of the President pounding his chest in public.  Now he is left with two bad choices.  Intervene in Syria and the consequences are unknown.  Past history has shown such interventions to be ineffective.  Should Obama not respond to the challenge to his redline, the Country can expect further, possibly more serious challenges, from other adversaries including Iran, North Korea, Russia or China.

Before being elected to his first term, Joe Biden once infamously said that Obama would be tested.  On the foreign policy front he is failing that test.


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