Jonah Goldberg: Obama pulls a huge bait-and-switch on Syria
In 2003, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz gave a lengthy interview to Vanity Fair that caused a huge uproar, largely because the magazine shamefully distorted what he was trying to say. Wolfowitz explained that within the Bush administration there were a lot of arguments for why we should invade Iraq. Some had to do with the fact that Saddam Hussein was a state supporter of terrorism. Some had to do with how Hussein treated his own people. Others emphasized alleged links between the regime and 9/11. And so on.
The problem with focusing solely on a single issue turned out to be disastrous for the administration, given that the WMD never materialized. It should have been clear to everyone that few important decisions in life boil down to a single issue.
"I'm less concerned about style points; I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right," President Obama told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, in response to the widespread criticism that his foreign policy has been a hot mess of late.
The last few weeks have had more drama than a "Desperate Housewives" franchise during sweeps week. Still, if in some Mr. Magoo-like way the administration has blindly blundered into a policy victory, that's preferable to smoothly sticking the landing on a policy failure.
In his ABC interview, the President repeatedly said that his goal is to do something about chemical weapons: "And what I've said consistently throughout is that the chemical weapons issue is a problem. I want that problem dealt with.
That is a huge bait-and-switch.
Until the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs, the administration was not primarily concerned with chemical weapons. It was concerned with doing whatever it could — short of intervening militarily — to see to it that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad either step down or be forced out. In 2011, Obama said: "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside." And, a year later: "I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down." And in May at a news conference with the Turkish prime minister: "We both agree that Assad needs to go. ... That is the only way we're going to resolve this crisis. And we're going to keep working for a Syria that is free from Assad's tyranny."