Nail On The Head: “The Fruits of Epic Incompetence” (By Charles Krauthammer)

Nail On The HeadNationally syndicated opinion writers are the icons of novice political bloggers.  They effortlessly weave their wordcraft — with clarity, originality, perfect timing, and booming reverberation.  Reading one of their gems instantly makes the pen in my hand feel like a crayon.

(photo credit)

In homage to these legends, I recently started a category here called Nail On The Head.  My second “Nail On The Head” vote goes to this September 12th Washington Post opinion piece by Charles Krauthammer. 

– Jeff

The Fruits of Epic Incompetence

By Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, Sept 12, 2013

Charles KrauthammerThe president of the United States takes to the airwaves to urgently persuade the nation to pause before doing something it has no desire to do in the first place.

Strange. And it gets stranger still.

That “strike Syria, maybe” speech begins with a heart-rending account of children consigned to a terrible death by a monster dropping poison gas. It proceeds to explain why such behavior must be punished. It culminates with the argument that the proper response — the most effective way to uphold fundamental norms, indeed human decency — is a flea bite: something “limited,” “targeted” or, as so memorably described by Secretary of State John Kerry, “unbelievably small.”

The mind reels, but there’s more. We must respond — but not yet. This “Munich moment” (Kerry again) demands first a pause to find accommodation with that very same toxin-wielding monster, by way of negotiations with his equally cynical, often shirtless, Kremlin patron bearing promises.

The promise is to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. The negotiations are open-ended. Not a word from President Obama about any deadline or ultimatum. And utter passivity: Kerry said hours earlier that he awaited the Russian proposal.

Why? The administration claims (preposterously, but no matter) that Obama has been working on this idea with Putin at previous meetings. Moreover, the idea was first publicly enunciated by Kerry, even though his own State Department immediately walked it back as a slip of the tongue.

Take at face value Obama’s claim of authorship. Then why isn’t he taking ownership? Why isn’t he calling it the “U.S. proposal” and defining it? Why not issue a U.S. plan containing the precise demands, detailed timeline and threat of action should these conditions fail to be met?

Putin doesn’t care one way or the other about chemical weapons. Nor about dead Syrian children. Nor about international norms, parchment treaties and the other niceties of the liberal imagination.

He cares about power and he cares about keeping Bashar al-Assad in power. Assad is the key link in the anti-Western Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran through Damascus and Beirut to the Mediterranean — on which sits Tartus, Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. This axis frontally challenges the pro-American Sunni Arab Middle East (Jordan, Yemen, the Gulf Arabs, even the North African states), already terrified at the imminent emergence of a nuclear Iran.

At which point the Iran axis and its Russian patron would achieve dominance over the moderate Arab states, allowing Russia to supplant America as regional hegemon for the first time since Egypt switched to our side in the Cold War in 1972.

The hinge of the entire Russian strategy is saving the Assad regime. That’s the very purpose of the “Russian proposal.” Imagine that some supposed arms-control protocol is worked out. The inspectors have to be vetted by Assad, protected by Assad, convoyed by Assad, directed by Assad to every destination. Negotiation, inspection, identification, accounting, transport and safety would require constant cooperation with the regime, and thus acknowledgment of its sovereignty and legitimacy.

So much for Obama’s repeated insistence that Assad must go.

[Aug 2011:]

[May 2013:]

Indeed, Putin has openly demanded that any negotiation be conditioned on a U.S. commitment to forswear the use of force against Assad. On Thursday, Assad repeated that demand, warning that without an American pledge not to attack and not to arm the rebels, his government would agree to nothing.

This would abolish the very possibility of America tilting the order of battle in a Syrian war that Assad is now winning thanks to Russian arms, Iranian advisers and Lebanese Hezbollah shock troops. Putin thus assures the survival of his Syrian client and the continued ascendancy of the anti-Western Iranian bloc.

And what does America get? Obama saves face.

Some deal.

As for the peace process, it has about zero chance of disarming Damascus. We’ve spent nine years disarming an infinitely smaller arsenal in Libya — in conditions of peace — and we’re still finding undeclared stockpiles.

Yet consider what’s happened over the last month. Assad uses poison gas on civilians and is branded, by the United States above all, a war criminal. Putin, covering for the war criminal, is exposed, isolated, courting pariah status.

And now? Assad, far from receiving punishment of any kind, goes from monster to peace partner. Putin bestrides the world stage, playing dealmaker. He’s welcomed by America as a constructive partner. Now a world statesman, he takes to the New York Times to blame American interventionist arrogance — a.k.a. “American exceptionalism” — for inducing small states to acquire WMDs in the first place.

And Obama gets to slink away from a Syrian debacle of his own making. Such are the fruits of a diplomacy of epic incompetence.


Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, Sept 12, 2013

Nail On The Head Nail On The Head! 


Similar reading:

Michael Gerson:  Obama’s missteps on Syria lead to retreat

Kathleen Parker:  Putin has a good time at Obama’s expense


About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
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2 Responses to Nail On The Head: “The Fruits of Epic Incompetence” (By Charles Krauthammer)

  1. Jack Curtis says:

    I respectfully differ with Mr.Krauthammer; our politicos, including the Prez, appear far from incompetent but rather the contrary. It’s just that their goals aren’t our desired ones but their own aggrandizement instead. At which I see them as accomplished indeed.

    And we who elect and reelect them in the hope of gain at the expense of others, are little better…


    • Jack, I agree with you in a general sense about politics. But in this specific case, I don’t see how President Obama can feel like he has aggrandized himself, if he could somehow be objective (which he can’t). Only through the absurd retroactive re-spinning of the sequence of events & motives have the President and his aides been able to claim that his actions were originally intended to put pressure on the international community so that somebody, for example Russia, would step forward and offer to broker a way out of the consequences when Syria called Obama’s bluff. Perhaps you are including the “spin” aspect in your comment, and you’re being cynical when you compliment them about their skill at it. But I think in this case, he’s been a laughing stock, and there are significant contingents of both the left and the right who are appalled at his performance. In other words, there is bipartisan recognition that the President REALLY flubbed this one.

      I think you’re cynically branching off into a different (yet valid) area than Krauthammer was addressing. In assuming the goal of Obama’s foreign policy is to advance the interests of the U.S. most effectively, Krauthammer is saying that Obama’s actions towards Syria, in total, have been utterly inept. I believe you’re starting from a different premise: Since Obama, if he were truthful, would admit that he doesn’t give a whit about advancing the interests of the U.S. around the world via a position of strength, then his underlying motive of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement is all that really shows through here. And he’s so very taken with himself that he doesn’t recognize how ridiculous he looks on this issue. He looks at himself in a rose-colored mirror, as do most politicians on both the left and the right. If that’s where you are coming from, I generally agree with you. 🙂

      – Jeff


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