Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Obama creates a muddle

  • Print

Contrary to those who have caricatured him as an extremist or a tyrant, President Obama tends to search for middle ground almost reflexively. No doubt this useful habit served him well throughout much of his life as an organizer, lawyer and legislator. In the presidency, however, it has sometimes done him in.

Obama’s approach to the civil war in Syria is the latest and perhaps most glaring example. There is a line brighter than Obama’s infamous red one between military intervention and the lack thereof, and Obama’s endless attempts to straddle it have rendered his Syria policy a muddle.

Related Items

Obama appears to favour nonintervention at heart. In this respect, he is aligned with most of the American public after a decade of long, costly, painful, and largely fruitless wars. But rather than speak up clearly for this utterly defensible point of view, Obama has repeatedly feinted toward U.S. intervention without seeming to mean it. In failing to speak up for the considered position that there is no useful role for the United States in this war, he has played into the hands of those who equate strength with military action.

Obama’s "red line" comments are his original sin on the subject. "I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation," Obama told a reporter asking about Syria last year. But rather than make the case for that position, he hastened to explain that under certain conditions, he would take the opposite position: "We have been very clear to the Assad regime... that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized... We have communicated in no uncertain terms... that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences."

Since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government apparently killed more than 1,400 in Damascus with poison gas last month, Obama has tried to back away from the consequences of his caveat. "I didn’t set a red line," he insisted at one point. "The world set a red line." He then punted the decision to Congress before cautiously endorsing the diplomatic solution accidentally proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry and seized upon by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Syrian regime’s most powerful ally. Meanwhile, the halfhearted threat of an "unbelievably small" military strike, as Kerry put it, lingers.

By dwelling on the circumstances under which he would depart from his decision not to go to war — and on those under which he would depart from his departure — Obama has done a disservice to the millions of Americans who favour more careful consideration of the use of military force, and whose reluctance is reinforced by 12 years of national experience since Sept. 11, 2001.

The case for military restraint is difficult to make in the face of the horrific violence in Syria. But Obama, the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize as well as his last presidential election, is in an ideal position to make it forcefully. Unfortunately, he hasn’t.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


I Dream of Diesel at Rachel Brown Theatre scene preview

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009
  • JJOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-Postcard  Day-Horror frost and fog created a most beautiful setting at Assiniboine Park Thursday morning in WInnipeg- Enviroent Canada says the fog will lifet this morning and will see a high of -7C-  JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Feb 18, 2010

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think the Jets will win Game 4 on Wednesday?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google