As Congress debates whether or not the United States should take military action in Syria over the use of chemical weapons, political pundits of all stripes are coming out of the woodwork to criticize President Barack Obama for his apparent lack of decisiveness and clear leadership on the issue.
That’s to be expected. The president did, after all, back himself into a corner when he talked about how a "red line" had been crossed and that the world community should intervene. To be fair, though, he thought he would have more international support. But when that support did not materialize, and polls showed most war-weary Americans also oppose getting into another potential quagmire, Obama needed to find a way out.
His critics and political foes have been having a field day ever since.
In most cases we can just roll our eyes and chalk it up to politics as usual, or even acknowledge that some of the criticism is valid. But when former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has the nerve to lecture about leadership and commanding the respect of Congress, American citizens and the international community, we must draw our own red line.
In an interview with Fox & Friends on Wednesday, Rumsfeld said Obama’s leadership has been so lacking on the issue of Syria that he only deserved the title of "so-called commander-in-chief."
"I think that the fact that American people are confused and the fact that the Congress seems uncertain and the international community is not supportive is a reflection of the fact that the so-called ‘commander-in-chief’ has not been acting as a commander-in-chief," Rumsfeld said. "He’s not provided leadership."
We wonder what kind of leadership to which Rumsfeld is referring. Is this the same type of leadership that brought us headlong into a decade of war with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that did not exist?
Rumsfeld himself even acknowledged, in an interview with CNN on Thursday, that the failure of Iraq War intelligence was "part of the problem" in convincing other countries to join in an attack on Syria. But then he reversed course and said he didn’t think Iraq was really the problem.
"I think what’s going on here is almost any president in my adult life I think would have provided stronger leadership and greater clarity, and as a result generated broader support in the international community and in the country and in the Congress," he said.
Most reasonable people, however, recognize that the faulty intelligence which led to the Iraq War, the bloody mess that always comes with war, and the instability that persists there to this day, are all major contributors to the wide-scale reluctance over military involvement in Syria.
Rumsfeld adds further insult to injury when he denies that the pre-war Iraq intelligence was manipulated. Does he really think anyone’s buying into that claim? As the Huffington Post reports, going all the way back to July 2002 a British intelligence officer wrote a memo that contradicts Rumsfeld’s claim.
"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," the intelligence officer wrote.
It is because of what happened in Iraq that there is so much doubt over the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the need for verification. And even if UN inspectors verify the use of chemical weapons in Syria, our experience in Iraq and other Middle East meddling is the very thing that gives us pause this time around.
As one Internet poster noted in response to Rumsfeld’s Fox interview, "Most if not all of America’s adventures in the Middle East have not changed circumstances on the ground, but just made matters worse."
-- Brattleboro Reformer