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Hesitation, Delay, and Unreliability

Not the qualities one looks for in a war president.

Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By FRED BARNES
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“Saying ‘I am war-weary’ is an appalling thing to do,” says Eliot Cohen, whose book Supreme Command examines four successful wartime leaders (Lincoln, Clémenceau, Churchill, Ben-Gurion). “Number One has to look confident, self-assured, positive without conveying an impression of irrational optimism. Above all, he can never, ever feel sorry for himself—or, indeed, anyone else.”

In Sweden last week, Obama couldn’t stifle his self-pity. They don’t understand him at home, he suggested. “If I were here in Europe, I’d probably be considered right in the middle, maybe center-left, maybe center-right, depending on the country. In the United States sometimes the names I’m called are quite different.” At this point, the White House transcript noted “(laughter).”

Nor could the president resist a hairsplitting case that he hadn’t drawn the “red line” in Syria. “The world set the red line,” he claimed, citing the treaty banning chemical weapons. That wasn’t all. Forget the notion his credibility is “on the line” in Syria. Nope, it’s Congress and the “international community” whose credibility is, according to Obama.

What he gained from airing these distinctions is anyone’s guess. It didn’t improve the prospect of passage in Congress of his use-of-force resolution. And it’s hard to imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Churchill, both models of wartime leadership, quibbling over such trivialities during World War II.

But what, one might ask, was the president doing in Sweden while his Syria resolution was being debated in Congress? Sweden wasn’t likely to help. It was neutral in World War II. Thus it was no surprise that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt declined to endorse Obama-style military intervention in Syria.

The visit to Sweden could have been rescheduled without diplomatic repercussion. And Obama’s next stop, the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, could have been abbreviated. Or skipped.

Instead, the president left to subordinates the task of lobbying antiwar Democrats in Congress, without whose votes the resolution may fail. And he’s handed Kerry the lead role—the presidential role, I’d say—in promoting the resolution and defending “limited” bombing of Syria.

I’ve concluded Obama doesn’t want to be a war president. But in his desire to bomb Syria—an act of war— he’s become a war president. Now he needs to act like one. There’s still time.

Fred Barnes is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.

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