Rich Lowry: Trust Obama to not call a war, a war

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi shared with reporters the other day her conversation with her 5-year-old grandson.

She recounted how he asked her whether she supported "war" in Syria. Before telling the rest of the story, she paused to note the precocious tyke's overly aggressive language. "Now, he's 5 years old ... and he's saying 'war,'" she explained. "I mean, we're not talking about war, we're talking about an action here."

From the mouth of babes. The child has a better grasp of the connection between words and reality than his grandma. But, no doubt, he will grow out of it. By the time he becomes an elected Democratic official supporting some military intervention or other, he will have learned the necessary argot of euphemism and denial.

Secretary of State John Kerry is a master at it. In his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said, "Let me be clear: President Obama is not asking America to go to war."

Despite his reputation, Secretary Kerry is rigorously consistent — he's anti-war when he's opposing a war and testifying against it in Congress, and he's anti-war when he's supporting a war and testifying for it in Congress.

All of this wordplay is profoundly unserious. The last time I checked, Jane's Defence Weekly doesn't set aside a special category for the BGM-109 Tomahawk as a "weapon of action." When you initiate hostilities against another country, when you blow up its buildings and military equipment and kill its officials and military personnel — as will almost certainly happen here — you are committing an act of war.

The unwillingness to admit as much speaks to the haze of ambivalence hanging over the proposed Syria strikes that goes to the very top. President Barack Obama can maintain an ironic detachment from almost everything: his own administration, his own country and now his own war. In Stockholm, he said: "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line." He further explained: "My credibility's not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line, and America and Congress' credibility is on the line."

You can understand what he's getting at — there is an international norm against the use of chemical weapons that long predates President Obama, and the country's credibility is at stake, not just his own — while still marveling at his evasiveness. No one forced Obama to make his red-line warning to Syria; he did it all on his own. As for the international "community," quite a few of its members will be perfectly happy to see Bashar Assad suffer no consequences whatsoever.

Obama is clearly uncomfortable exercising American leadership. It forces him into all the same expedients that he once criticized, when it was George W. Bush resorting to them.

Leading means not letting balky allies define the limits of your actions. When Britain backed out of Syria, the president persisted. How times have changed. It used to be that if dozens of foreign countries signed onto a U.S. military intervention, but not France, we were "going it alone." Now, if we have a military coalition consisting exclusively of France, we are leading the world.

It means refusing to make a fetish of the United Nations. As soon as he took office, the president gave an achingly naive speech to the General Assembly in which he promised "a new chapter of international cooperation." What did the president get for his good intentions? Nothing. He won't even bother trying to get the U.N.'s blessing for a Syria intervention.

It means, when necessary, turning to force. Not because you are a "cowboy." But because sometimes it is the only way to punish enemies and secure the nation's interests.

And it means communicating a sense of purpose and resolution. If Bush always did this, perhaps to a fault, Obama's mixed feelings are too flagrantly on display. His administration can't even call what it is proposing by its real name.

Rich Lowry is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached via email at: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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Comments

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Republicans are always happy to declare a fist fight a war

You can't be a BIG man without a BIG enemy and a BIG fight. Acts of war are not a war; may lead to war but aren't a war.
First, the President appears to have won this war. Syria may be willing to comply with international agreements and give up its chemical weapons - the goals President Obama stated to be US policy. Now the right will deny that Obama had anything to do with this. They will invoke Reagan, Bush I, Dwight Eisenhower, not Obama. But clearly the threat of military action was sufficient to bring Assad in line. Let the critics howl. They were wrong about the recession, the auto recovery, the stimulus, the economy generally, Iraq, why would anyone listen to them now.

MICHAEL LEBLANC's picture

Putin is playing Obama like a fish.

And not a very big fish, certainly not a feisty one. Obama may as well get used to that line in his mouth because, by the end of his 2nd term, he'll have so many strings attached he'll look like a puppet, instead of just acting like one.

I don't need to invoke anyone other than Obama and his fawning horde of sycophants (although the horde is quite a bit smaller than it used to be) who proudly proclaim with Orwellian fervor that failure is success. What a list! the recession, the auto recovery, the stimulus, the economy generally, Iraq - three total failures bracketed by two items for which Obama has steadfastly refused to place any blame where more than a little belongs, on the left side of the aisle.

Indeed, why would anyone listen to him now?

MARK GRAVE's picture

“No one forced Obama to make

“No one forced Obama to make his red-line warning to Syria; he did it all on his own.”

No, I actually heard someone blame Bush. Bushes wars destabilized the region according to the talking head.

“Obama is clearly uncomfortable exercising American leadership.”

One cannot exercise what one does not have.

” His administration can't even call what it is proposing by its real name.”
Nearly 50% of the American population noticed this behavior years ago. Remember Obama always had difficulty with the word terrorist. You act as if this realization is an epiphany.

As this situation plays out, I hope more and more of Obama’s worshipers see him for what he really is.

CAROLYN LIBBEY's picture

If it looks like a

If it looks like a duck---Attacks against a country which has not threatened the USA borders are acts of "war" plain and simple. What do Obama and Congress not get?

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