By now a pattern has emerged in President Obama’s foreign policy: Inclined to “lead from behind,” the cool, unexcitable and cerebral chief executive normally hesitates and agonizes before taking decisive action, then, when pushed to do so by allies, aides, or by Congress, or all three, he claims credit for having been tough all along. The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was an exception–the president was, by all indicators, more unwavering than his senior advisers–but the decision to intervene in Libya certainly falls into this category as does the decision to keep Guantanamo open and the decision to impose a tough new round of sanctions on Iran’s central bank and oil industry. The latter sanctions were compelled by virtually unanimous votes of Congress after the president spent the first three years of his administration trying to reach out to Tehran.
Now the pattern is being repeated with regard to the Haqqani Network. For the past two years, despite strong arguments to do so from both U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Afghanistan, the administration has refused to add the Haqqani Network to the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, presumably for fear of offending Pakistan which provides sanctuary and other support to the Haqqanis. Then in early August Congress passed legislation giving the administration 30 days to either list the Haqqanis or explain why not. And lo and behold the White House has finally decided to designate the Haqqanis, which will make it easier to go after that organization’s finances.
The only mystery now is how much time it will take–how much pressure will have to build both externally and internally–before the president will take serious action to help end the bloodletting in Syria. France is taking the lead here, most recently with the news that it is providing aid to five revolutionary councils which control areas with about 700,000 people living there. This flatly contradicts one of the administration’s excuses for inaction–the claim that, unlike in Libya, the rebels in Syria do not control contiguous territory. It is only a matter of time, I expect, before greater U.S. aid along the French lines will be forthcoming. And, rest assured, it cannot be long before the president is claiming credit for doing what he was dragged most unwillingly into doing.