On the eve of the Netanyahu visit to Washington, President Obama gave a lengthy interview to Jeffrey Goldberg that shows a chief executive who has learned next to nothing about the world in his five years in office.
First, kudos to Goldberg: he pressed Obama repeatedly, challenging vague formulations and seeking clarity. Goldberg pushed Obama hard, especially on Iran and Syria.
Obama isn’t good off the cuff, especially when challenged; he is far better with a prepared speech. And what emerged is an awful portrait of the president and his conception of the world.
Take Syria. Here’s what Obama said:
“I think those who believe that two years ago, or three years ago, there was some swift resolution to this thing had we acted more forcefully, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the conflict in Syria and the conditions on the ground there. … Over the last two years I have pushed our teams to find out what are the best options in a bad situation. … But I’ve looked at a whole lot of game plans, a whole lot of war plans, a whole bunch of scenarios, and nobody has been able to persuade me that us taking large-scale military action even absent boots on the ground, would actually solve the problem. And those who make that claim do so without a lot of very specific information.”
Who are these people who have inadequate information, misunderstand the conflict in Syria, and think there is much more the United States could have done? They include both of Obama’s secretaries of state, Clinton and Kerry, his former defense secretary Leon Panetta, and his former CIA director David Petraeus—all of whom wanted much more U.S. support for the Syrian rebels. And perhaps more to the point, take the case of Fred Hof.
Hof has been working on Syria and the broader Middle East since the 1970s, first as a career Army officer and then for the State Department. He was given the rank of ambassador and the title of “special adviser” on Syria by Obama in 2012. Hof has left the government and is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where he writes regularly about Syria at the Council’s web site. He knows far more about Syria than Mr. Obama and saw the same intelligence Mr. Obama did (in fact, he no doubt read a lot more of it). And what he writes is filled with growing anguish and anger about Obama’s failure to act in the face of mass murder by the criminal regime in Damascus. But to Obama, any such criticism “fundamentally misunderstands…conditions on the ground there,” which of course only Obama really understands.
Obama’s “arguments” about Syria in the Goldberg interview are insulting to his former (and, in Kerry’s case, current) top advisers, whose advice he rejected, and misleading about their advice. He describes a situation where ignorant critics seek “large scale military action,” which is akin to the administration’s claim that those who want sanctions on Iran are “warmongers.” But that is a false description, for what was recommended time after time was serious help to the rebels, and a one-time strike (“incredibly small,” said Kerry, not “large scale”) at chemical weapons assets. So we have the president deriding those who disagreed with him—who include his top aides and top experts—and refusing, even now, to understand that his policy of passivity in Syria has produced nearly the worst of all possible worlds: 150,000 dead, 6 million homeless, and a menacing gathering of perhaps 25,000 jihadists at the heart of the Middle East.
On Israel, Obama was harsh and unfriendly to Netanyahu just days before the Netanyahu visit—quite a welcome to Washington. But the errors of his own analysis are striking. He says we must give the Palestinians “the dignity of a state,” but the Tunisians and Egyptians and other Arabs who rebelled in the “Arab Spring” had a state. They lacked dignity because that state treated them with contempt, giving them no real freedom and jailing them if they asked for it. Under Mr. Obama corruption in the Palestinian Authority has exploded and they have gone five additional years without an election.
Mr. Obama says this:
“Palestinians would still prefer peace. They would still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas, go back and forth to work without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people.”