Let's be real for one second: President Barack Obama never had any intention for a military intervention in Syria. Every speech calling for United States action, "targeted strikes" or otherwise, every promise that the U.S. will not stand on the sidelines, the turn to Congress for approval — it has all been part of a political stunt. Obama played us good.
Less than a week ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Obama would take executive action and pull the trigger on a missile strike against Syria in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad's regime's use of chemical weaponry against Syrian rebels and civilians on August 21. Sure, the president kept promising that he had "not made a decision" on military intervention. But at the same time, his administration made it clear that there was "no doubt" the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own citizens, thus crossing the "red line" Obama set a year ago when he said "A red line for us is when start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized." And yet now intervention has been put to Congress and looks like a long shot. Why would Obama go to Congress for approval, when he, despite a few legal qualms, could have pulled off a strike unilaterally — and even did so in Libya two years ago?
During this feigned war mongering, Obama has routinely claimed that U.S. credibility is at stake. In reality, though, the only credibility on the line is his own. Of course Obama doesn't want to invade Syria. It makes no sense for him. It's wildly unpopular with the public (to the tune of a 48% to 29% margin), politically disastrous within his own party, and garnering support from the sort of people the president wants nothing to do with (we're looking at you, Sen. Lindsey Graham). But he couldn't back off his previous stance, and he couldn't appear weak. If there's one thing Obama hates, it's looking weak.
So what does the president do when he wants to save face? First, he does some macho posturing, using phrases like "a danger to [U.S.] national security" and making it clear he's not afraid to go it alone. He calls out the UN Security Council for being, essentially, useless. He sends Secretary of State John Kerry out to present the evidence of a chemical attack and lay down the number of casualties and death toll. He makes everyone really, truly believe the U.S. is set for a strike on Syria.
And then, at the last minute, the president sends the decision to Congress ... where he knows it won't pass. Because the president doesn't want to strike Syria, he just has to pretend he does. This way, Congress takes the heat for doing nothing. At least Obama can say he tried. What does he do to make sure the U.S. stays out of Syria? Obama tanks.
The actions of the Obama administration since August 31, when Obama sent the vote to Congress, have been the actions of an administration throwing the fight. If he was really gunning for military action, he would've done it himself, not send it to a Congress that has been obstructionist since the get-go. Everything Obama has tried to push through has been dead on arrival, so why would this be any different? And let's say Obama did want Congress to pass an authorization of force; he wouldn't meet with the likes of the establishment like Sens. John McCain and Boehner, he'd meet with the ones standing in his way, like Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Mitch McConnell.
And then there is Kerry's performance in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. Kerry, acting as Obama's surrogate for the hearing, said the one phrase the administration new would send everyone off the handle: "boots on the ground." Granted, he made it pretty clear they wouldn't go that far, but he didn't rule it out either. When you're trying to distance an operation from previous ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, you don't leave "boots on the ground" on the table. That's political suicide and the Obama administration knows it.
Look, they're not dumb enough to send Kerry out there with his head in his hands if they really wanted to get something done. They wouldn't let their most vocal supporter of Syrian intervention, Sen. McCain, get caught playing games on his cellphone. The Obama administration isn't this sloppy, not when it matters. This was an orchestrated botch.
Ezra Klein, for the Washington Post, joked this morning that Obama is tanking on purpose. But it's not a joke. It's almost too obvious at this point. Obama had no intention to strike Syria. He knew he had to appear like he did, and then pin the blame on Congress when the U.S. fails to take action. Which is exactly what he's doing. He's failing beautifully. He's a maestro.