Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The reluctant president: Obama and the missed Syrian moment

I have been a loyal Obama supporter from the moment he delivered his ground-breaking speech at John Kerry's nomination at the Democrat's convention in 2004. I predicted on these very pages that Obama would win a second term before he was even sworn in for his first term. But over the years I have been underwhelmed. It's not that he has done nothing striking for Africa. I knew that first and foremost he was a President of USA. I hate to think that even George W Bush's PEPFAR program trumps anything Obama has done thus far for Africa. It is clear as well that Syria's conflict is complex drawing in many regional powers with Russia added in for good measure but surely Obama flanked the Syria chemical-use incident. Any mediocre President would still have ordered surgical strikes in retaliation against the Assad regime for gassing its own people. Not every decision has to have approval of congress surely. The element of suprise is lost and Assad has been given all the time in the world to prepare for a potential strike. Even the Bush-era 'Shock and awe' seems preferable in comparison. Clearly, Obama's reluctance is partly because of the Iraq-Afghanistan hangover and an American public wary of another endless and costly foray of foreign interventions and an economy that is slowly recovering from (partly) its effects but still.. As US president, Obama has the privilege of presidential discretion. He could have easily ordered a surgical strike against Assad without requiring approval of the legislature. Obama gets a daily intelligence briefing that requires his swift action at certain times that requires a decisive President. Now he set an unwelcome precedent for the next US presidents. This was, without doubt, one of Obama's lowest moments as US president-for me at least. May be I am not as unqualified for US president as I thought.

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