Chemical weapons are evil, but you could also say they're cursed. They have a talismanic power to bend and distort U.S. foreign policy. You can ask
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
Each of these arguments had proponents and opponents, Wolfowitz explained. The result was that "we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on": weapons of mass destruction.
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.
Something similar has happened to the Obama administration.
"I'm less concerned about style points; I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right," President Obama told ABC's
It's a fair point, even if a bit hypocritical for a president who goes by the moniker "No Drama Obama."
The last few weeks have had more drama than a
The question, however, is: What policy?
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's my goal," he declared. "And if that goal is achieved, then it sounds to me like we did something right."
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
That goal is now dead. The Russian deal Obama just agreed to amounts to a huge boon to Assad in that it brings him into the so-called international community America has spent the last two years trying to kick him out of. This "represents an astonishing victory for the Assad regime," writes Bloomberg's Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation). So long as Assad only massacres his own people — including children — with old-fashioned weapons, he's immune to international force. Worse, Assad is now our partner because getting his WMD is now more important than getting rid of him. We've gone from siding with the rebels to acting like a boxing ref with no investment in who wins so long as neither side strikes any low blows.
Obviously, in reality, the president's short-term goal was to avoid getting into an unpopular war precipitated by his own ill-considered statements or being humiliated by a congressional no vote precipitated by his decision to punt the issue to Capitol Hill. But what made that goal achievable was the curse of chemical weapons.