Updated: October 9, 2013 7:54PM
The debate over Syria has proven that the political world as we’ve known it is upside down.
Hawks are doves. Doves are hawks.
The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner who won his presidency in part by opposing an unpopular war is now the president championing military action – despite its unpopularity.
One FOX News commentator called on President Barack Obama to give back the prize. A G20 Summit in St. Petersburg Russia on Friday revealed that Russian president Vladimir Putin remains sternly against any intervention, making the war-weary even more worried.
Still, Obama is pushing forward, and on Tuesday will make his case to the American people in an address from the White House.
U.S. intelligence – and the international community — has since acknowledged that chemical weapons were used to kill 1,429 Syrians including more than 400 children on Aug. 21.
The Nobel committee awarded the president the Nobel prize in 2009 in part because of Obama’s insistence that the United States should not have grown entrenched in Iraq without the international community’s endorsement. The Nobel committee credited Obama: “dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”
So now Americans find the same president pushing for a military strike after the U.N. Security Council (on which both China and Russia have veto power) would not back military retribution. Obama argues Bashar al-Assad’s flouting of the international humanitarian guidelines against the use of chemical weapons was that egregious.
Obama has stepped back some, announcing he would seek Congress’ endorsement even though he believes he doesn’t need to.
There’s no question the president has much at stake.
If Congress votes down the plea to strike, it will only add to rejections from the U.N. as well as a move by the British government to recoil following an opposition vote from Parliament.
Obama has said he does not want to act unilaterally, but even if he tried, his position on the international stage is weakened without the full-force of the United States behind him, says Laurel Harbridge, Northwestern University assistant professor in political science. Harbridge says it would further weaken Obama domestically if he suffers spurning from Congress after making his position clear.
Judging by the Illinois delegation, even the bluest of states is dramatically divided on the issue.
Harbridge says Obama’s difficulties are on two fronts. One is convincing those who are through and through ideologically-opposed to war.
“The second difficulty he faces, like many other issues, even foreign affairs and defense has become more partisan in Congress,” Harbridge said. “You’re losing Republicans who don’t want to support it for partisan reasons. It’s the same thing Democrats did to President Bush.” To that extent, Harbridge says the flip-flopping of doves and hawks is in some degree rooted in old-fashioned partisan politics.
With the long shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan still over the nation, it’s incumbent on the president on Tuesday to explain why an act of aggression is the only route here.
Ian Hurd, an expert on international law and also a Northwestern University professor, put it simply: It isn’t the only option.
Hurd argues that Obama can save face on the international level through diplomacy. One suggestion: go back to the U.N. and call for sanctions against Syria and reinvigorate the ban on chemical weapons, gathering up international disgust for Syria’s actions all the while. Another way for Obama to gain international cred, Hurd says: announce that we’ll dump our own cache of chemical weapons.
“The U.S. has the world’s second largest stockpile of chemical weapons,” says Hurd. “To get rid of its own chemical weapons — it would be a very strong public statement.” Hurd further says the U.S. should jump on the opportunity to engage the new leadership in Iran — rather than viewing it as monolithic — saying there’s a dispute within Iranian leadership over how to handle Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
The nation will be listening on Tuesday. But Obama should know that in the backs of many minds will be the Barack Obama who spoke to them in 2002.
“I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida,” Obama said then. “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”