On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – when asked about why we’re involving ourselves in Libya but not Syria – said this about Bashar Assad: “Many of the Members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” For understandable reasons – more about that in a moment– those comments didn’t fly very well. So it was time for a retake.
Yesterday, when asked about her statement at a press conference, Secretary Clinton said, “Well, first, Jay [Solomon], as you rightly pointed out, I referenced opinions of others. That was not speaking either for myself or for the administration.”
As walk backs go, this one was unusually clumsy and obviously untrue. Mrs. Clinton could simply have said her previous comments were wrong and she was revising them. Instead we get a response that no one believes. Of course she was speaking for herself and for the administration; that’s what secretaries of state (as opposed to, say, MSNBC commentators) do.
But what is truly disquieting is what our secretary of state said in the first place. It raises the question: Was she even remotely familiar with Syria’s record under Assad? Just for starters, had she taken the time to read her own State Department’s most recent terrorism report? If she had, she would have found several references to Syria.
For example, in Chapter 1 we read, “Syria … provided political and material support to Hizballah in Lebanon and allowed Iran to resupply this organization with weapons, and provided safe-haven as well as political and other support to a number of designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).”
In Chapter 2 we learn, “Iran and Syria, both state sponsors of terrorism, continued to play destabilizing roles in the region… Hizballah continued its acquisition of smuggled arms, primarily via Iran and Syria, in violation of UN resolution 1701… HAMAS and Hizballah continued to finance their terrorist activities against Israel primarily through state sponsors of terrorism Iran and Syria.”
And in Chapter 3 we’re told, “Syria has maintained its ties with its strategic ally, and fellow state sponsor of terrorism, Iran.”
The foreign-policy ineptness we’re seeing from the Obama administration is quite striking. Its key players are sending out contradictory messages one after the other. One day Hosni Mubarak’s regime is stable; the next day he has to go. One day Bashar Assad is a reformer; the next day he’s a butcher. The president tells Members of Congress he expects we’ll be actively involved in military action against Libya for days, not weeks; the secretary of defense, when asked how much longer we might be in Libya, says, “I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that.” The president says, Colonel Qaddafi “must step down from power and leave” immediately; the caveat is that his exit can be achieved only through non-military means.
The president is slow to get us involved in Libya, after pressure from the French, the British, the UN, and the Arab League; now that he has, Mr. Obama and his aides cannot stress often enough how eager they are to become uninvolved in Libya. “We didn’t want to get sucked into an operation with uncertainty at the end,” one senior administration official told the New York Times. “In some ways, how it turns out is not on our shoulders.”
On arming the Libyan rebels, the president helpfully tells us, “I’m not ruling it out, but I’m also not ruling it in.” We’re told it’s in America’s interest to involve ourselves in humanitarian military action under certain conditions, but no coherent rationale is provided. Apparently it’s to be done ad hoc, on the fly, based on shifting sentiments. Nor can the administration articulate to the public what our end game in Libya is. According to the most recent Quinnipiac poll, which was concluded Monday evening as President Obama was addressing the nation about Libya, voters say by a margin of 58–29 percent that he has not clearly stated U.S. goals for Libya.
Let’s stipulate that the world is a complicated place, wars are unpredictable, and foreign policy can be difficult to manage. Still, one would hope that even a community organizer could do better than this.