A favorite Republican claim about Barack Obama -- about any Democraticpresident -- is that he lacks strength. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia took up the theme yesterday, detecting in his Syria policy "weakness on the part of the president." Former UN ambassador John Bolton said the decision to ask Congress for authority to attack showed "weakness of the kind we haven't seen in an American leader in decades."
These comments should be taken with a grain of salt, considering that GOP presidential candidates were making the same accusation in 2011 -- after Obama approved the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and after he used U.S. air power to bring down Moammar Gadhafi.
Bolton was part of the Bush administration, whose principals defined resolve as invading a country without wasting time on unmanly activities like making sure you have enough troops or planning for what might come next. In practice, the Iraq war weakened us by burning through huge sums of money, badly stressing the military, limiting our capacity to respond to crises elsewhere and creating more enemies.
The people who got us into Iraq have trouble distinguishing sensible caution from inordinate fear. To leap into Syria with only the dimmest notion of what to do next if things go badly is not brave or strong; it's reckless and self-destructive.
Obama would be wise to stay out of the Syrian civil war entirely, given that it has no real effect on American security and is not amenable to any reasonable effort on our part. But at least he's looking for an option that minimizes the dangers to our military personnel and the risks of an open-ended entanglement. He is paying due respect to the rightful role of Congress in matters of war and peace. And he's strong enough to ignore the schoolyard taunts.
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