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Obama earns F for Syria follies

By Peter Morici
web posted September 16, 2013

Russia's ploy to defuse the Syrian crisis — persuading President Assad to turn over his chemical weapons to avert a U.S. attack — will likely end in an embarrassment for President Obama and diminish already declining U.S. prestige in the world.

Leading from behind, whether on domestic issues or troubles in the Middle East, Obama fails to demonstrate an adequate grasp of the challenges or propose effective solutions. Instead, he defers tough choices to Congress, which is terribly divided.

On health care, European and Japanese rivals spend much less and get more favorable results, making American businesses uncompetitive and destroying jobs. Instead of asking how the U.S. system can do better with less — something very distasteful to health care providers — Obama booted the problem to Congress with disastrous results.

Most recently, IBM announced it will force its retirees into Medicare exchanges. Even with subsidies for supplemental insurance, this will result in fewer benefits and higher costs, and a broken promise by Obama. Remember, Americans were supposed to be able to keep the employer insurance they liked.

On Syria, his inability to make tough choices and shoulder responsibility is proving even more tragic.

Last spring, Obama was telling the world Assad had to go and be held accountable for his violence against civilians, but he refused to adequately assist the rebel forces. Stalling gave fundamentalist and terrorist elements from elsewhere in the Middle East time to infiltrate the Syrian insurgency and recruit young men for terrorist activities elsewhere. Now, deposing Assad would likely result in a regime even more objectionable and threatening to U.S. interests and make America even more vulnerable to terrorism.

Faced with Assad's horrific use of chemical weapons, Obama concluded a military strike was necessary but refused to embrace his presidential responsibility to act quickly — on his own authority. Instead, he vowed to ask Congress for approval, delayed the debate until the conclusion of the summer recess, and gave the political forces that always deny the necessity of military force in both Europe and America time to organize, and for Syrian arms supplier and advocate Russia to work its diplomatic mischief.

The hard reality is that unless the United States or American forces are under direct attack, voters will not support action.

Obama has never accepted that he must take political heat for tough decisions as the price for occupying the Oval Office.

Now Secretary of State John Kerry has misstepped — that is, if you believe that scenario. By stating Syria could wiggle out by delivering to international authorities its chemical weapons, he has permitted Russia, which is most interested in diminishing U.S. status in Europe, to assert it can broker such a deal.

Syria may deliver some weapons but negotiations over a verification system to ensure the delivery is complete will go on for months and may never conclude. In both Europe and America, opposition to military action will grow, and if the president persists in advocating a strike, the United States will be increasingly isolated and unable to act effectively without putting American forces at unnecessary risk.

Syria's military assets will be well hidden, its air defenses hardened, and the now positioned Soviet armada will be able to pinpoint American naval movements for its military. Cruise missiles won't be enough and American pilots and seamen will be at great risk.

Had the president acted in August when Assad's use of chemical weapons was determined, he would have had more allied help and American forces would be less vulnerable.

Instead, the president may be forced to back down, leaving Assad in power and leaving his own successor the very difficult task of rebuilding American credibility abroad. ESR

Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, is a widely published columnist.

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