Conservatives are livid over Obama’s improvised success in Syria

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

The way conservatives are reacting to President Obama’s deal to eliminate Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, you’d think he just gave away Wyoming to the Russians.

Sure, it was quite a leap from insistence on the necessity of a punitive strike against the Bashar Assad regime to an over-the-weekend deal with Vladimir Putin that took away the imperative for military action. At least in this instance, Obama’s foreign policy looks rather improvisational, but that may not be quite as bad as the conservatives say it is. Improvisation in the name of peace is no vice.

Besides, despite the public facade that foreign policy gurus like to project, there is always at least as much improvisation and rolling of the dice at work in America’s actions on the world stage under any president as there is methodical strategic planning. Much of what goes on is purely reacting to events. One of the critics spouting heated criticism at Obama on Fox News was none other than Oliver North, the former Reagan administration military aide who dreamed up the idea of illegally funding the Nicaraguan Contras by secretly selling arms to Iran. Now there’s a guy who knows about rolling the dice (and losing) in foreign affairs.

Predictably, pretty much the entire lineup of Fox News commentators has been blasting Obama on Syria. In particular, they charge the president with diminishing America’s stature in the world by bringing Putin in as a full partner on the deal. Oddly, a similar scheme to enlist Putin in solving the Syria mess was proposed by their boss, Fox CEO Roger Ailes, in his recent autobiography. Apparently, Ailes saying it and Obama doing it are two different things to Sean Hannity and the rest of the gang who make a very good living by demonizing the president.


More weighty critiques came from the neo-conservatives who brought us the train wreck of the war in Iraq. Among them was former George W. Bush administration U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who called Obama’s Syria policy “delusional” and predicted that the chemical arms deal “will die a death by a thousand cuts.” Bolton, however, had already stated his opposition to Obama’s proposed missile strike against Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure, which is just one more example of how conservatives have been all over the map on what to do about Syria.

Perhaps Bolton is right. Perhaps the scheme to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons will get bogged down in U.N. Security Council deliberations and the huge challenge of tracking the weapons in the midst of a vicious civil war. Perhaps Putin will get a boosted reputation as a peacemaker that he does not deserve. But it is just as likely that Obama has run into a spot of luck that will make him look like a genius.

The disarmament process could drag on, but it is, nevertheless, highly unlikely that the Syrian government will employ chemical weapons again -- not with the Russians breathing down their necks. Meanwhile, Obama has avoided military action that the American public does not favor and that Congress was not likely to approve.

An even bigger bit of good luck for Obama came to light Wednesday when, in an interview with NBC, the new, moderate president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, disavowed any interest in building nuclear weapons. This change has been brewing for a while and, if the shift in Iran is real, it could take away the neo-cons’ greatest object of saber-rattling. Much to their consternation, this president that they call weak and irresolute may soon improvise his way into peace with Iran and out of a war with Syria.

I can imagine the talking heads at Fox starting to explode.