“I cannot give you the formula for success but I can give you the formula for failure: which is to try to please everybody.”
—Philosopher, Herbert Scope
The above quote from Herbert Scope seems to fit into what can be described as leadership 101. Unfortunately, it is the simple test, which the leader of the free world holding the world’s most powerful job, President Barrack Obama, has terribly flunked.
Around the world, we are left dazed by the grand waffling of the American President Obama over the Syrian conflict.
At the beginning, America opted to hang on the fence, refusing to be drawn into the intractable Syrian conflict that was also mired in deep sectarian divisions. Coming out of the Iraqi and Afghan debacle, it was not difficult to understand the American reluctance to get involved beyond the periodic expression of moral outrage at the Syrian slaughter.
Too bad, moral suasion is total nonsense to monsters like Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and perhaps, evidence of lack of capacity to do something in his warped psychopathic mind. In which case, America’s moral outrage and words to that effect from other Western leaders just didn’t cut it in Assad’s calculations.
The point is that Arab leaders seem to have innate understanding of the political limitations of democratic world, especially the Western nations where the concept of sovereignty is at times diffused by the parliaments, the media and the civil society.
Who for instance, would have thought, when Osama bin Laden was killed, that the media and the civil society, would raise issues about the legality – and morality – of killing a man, who wasn’t perceived to be armed and fighting back when he was confronted. That is the paradox of democratic societies!
During the presidential campaign, Obama’s opponents cited the Syrian debacle – and America’s failure to act decisively to prevent it – as an example of leading from behind, as his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, had repeatedly charged.
Romney also pilloried Obama’s successes in the use of drone attacks to decimate the enemies by pointing out that successes in drone attacks cannot in themselves suffice for the administration’s purported lack of strategy. At that election, I was 101 per cent pro-Obama.
With a presidential election around the corner, we thought Romney was merely baiting Obama to do something that could mire him into a disaster and cost him the election. Against frantic appeals by war hero, John McCain that America should intervene to avert human disaster, Obama administration adroitly, perhaps, even wisely, ignored the combatants. Behind the scene, America offered some low grade weaponry and minor support.
But then, last year, Obama finally stuck out his neck. If the Assad regime uses chemical weapons on his own people, then that would be crossing the red line that would attract America’s response.
About two weeks ago, Assad did just that. At least, the American government claimed to have incontrovertible evidence to prove that Assad did, killing over 1,400 people in the process, among them hundreds of children. This is a horrendous crime against humanity.
A poignant scene in CNN report showed a child whose skin was burning from the chemical attack and when told by medical personnel in the hospital to lie down and stop struggling, he retorted innocently, “Please stop burning the fire!” How do you explain to such a kid that he was not being roasted in a literal fire, but in a sarin-gas induced chemical fire inhaled from the air!
Which is why the world considered chemical warfare so heinous that it was banned from use in any kind of war whatsoever. Like nuclear weapons, it is rightly called weapon of mass destruction.
The second Gulf War that must have claimed over a million souls and still counting was precipitated by a perception that Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons of mass destruction, although that proved ultimately false.
According to the US intelligence, the latest attack was the ninth time the Assad regime was using such banned chemical weaponry, although opposition sources put it at over a dozen times. Of course, the Assad regime denied flatly that it used chemical weapons, blaming it on desperate rebel forces out to blackmail the regime. But the fact remains that Assad regime had stockpile of the chemical weapons and the technical capability of deploying same, beside the conclusive evidence gathered by American intelligence.
The evidence at the disposal of Obama administration left it with no equivocation about who used the banned chemical weapons. Assad had crossed the red line big time. It was time for the leader of the free world to act decisively. He seemed deeply morally outraged, but how does he strike against such outrage without displeasing anybody?
America pitched in with high rhetoric, moving cruise missiles and aircraft-carriers into the Persian Gulf. All the key global actors played as they were expected to act. Russian and China are in denial, asking for “evidence” even though they too had their own intelligence on the ground and knew better.
Toothless bulldog, United Nations sent in inspectors to verify what was used, even though Assad forces spent four days pounding the scene of the attack with firepower ostensibly to obliterate the evidence. Arab League expressed umbrage, blaming Assad and by implication, begging for action against this rogue regime.
“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians,” declared American Secretary of State, John Kerry, “the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable.”
With American war machine ready to go, targets already calculated and calibrated, the world waited breathlessly for President Obama who wearied the whole world by threatening fire and brimstone and then saying he has not made a decision. When would he make the decision? We waited on tenterhook.
Meanwhile, the British House of Commons had put the wind out of David Cameroun’s sail by voting against British involvement in a military strike. In Britain, the parliament is sovereign, but Americans claimed that they were not going to be dictated to by other nations.
By Sunday, we thought Obama was ready to press the button at last. What we got was a shocking anti-climax. “I am ready to act in the face of this outrage,” Obama said.
Our adrenalin was pumping in anticipation of the final order when Obama then announced that he has made a “second decision” to seek authorization from the Congress when they resumed from their holidays! Resumption date: around September 9.
When the American leaders act on global stage, the world suddenly turns into a virtual classroom teaching the world lessons on leadership. But on Sunday, Obama let the world down. He waffled when he should strike decisively. If Obama was a first term president seeking to please all the electorate at the same time, his sins would have been forgivable.
But here is a second term president who should act on the side of history, who should set decisive standards in terms of moral imperatives, struck down by acute case of intellectual and analytical paralysis which seems to have left him in a bind.
Assad is said to be “euphoric” about Obama’s confusion, declaring victory and leaving the rebel forces dazed, disappointed and sulking. What is a military strike without the thunder of a surprise?
Does Obama think Assad is a tree or a pillar that would just be waiting for Obama to navigate through intricate nuances and labyrinth of his peculiar moral rationalism and congressional filibustering before dropping the rockets! Obama’s generals must be wondering what they have for a commander in chief!
Perhaps, as Obama’s arch-rival, Mitt Romney had captured it earlier in the year, Obama has been “an extraordinary disappointment”, at least for me, in his acute indecisiveness. It is a reflection of the confusion that seems to have gripped the Obama presidency that his top officials are now rallying to suggest that he would still strike the Syrians even if the Congress votes no, but then if he does that, why then did he go to the Congress in the first place?
Unless something extra-ordinary happens to change the tide of things, this president may end up as the Arsenals team of presidential legacies—always struggling at the third or fourth positions of the premier league!