Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel went before a House panel Tuesday to testify on President Barack Obama's plan for a United States strike on Syria. The president himself will address the nation at 9 p.m. Tuesday night on national television, directly from the White House for only the third time in his presidency, and outline his plan plainly to the American people. Eight senators, including John McCain and Charles Schumer, are drafting "an alternative congressional resolution" in response to Syria's openness to international control of their chemical weapons — this after Sen. Harry Reid delayed the procedural vote for discussion on Obama's original plan.
But none of it matters, because the Obama administration never had a real plan for a military strike on Syria.
They've been trumpeting their case for nearly two weeks now, but have any concrete details actually come out? What do we actually know about this "plan" of military action against Syria? The administration keeps making hairpin turns, as if they can't decide how best to approach Syria ... or as if they never had any intention of a military strike. Each time a promising out pops up, the Obama administration jumps at it.
They came out strong, then gave the authorization of force to Congress, where they knew it wouldn't pass. Kerry made an offhand remark during an interview on Monday, and hours later it became a centerpiece of the administration's policy. In his interview, Kerry suggested that Assad could avoid a U.S. strike if he handed over his chemical weapons stockpile to international control, but according to Kerry, "[Assad] isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously." Obviously. But then Russia reached out to Syria with this very proposal and Bashar al-Assad said he "welcomes" it. Obviously. So Obama, in his marathon run of six primetime interviews bolstering support for a U.S. strike (supposedly), admitted that this proposal "is something that is not new" and he's been "discussing" it with Russian President Vladimir Putin for "some time now." Obviously.
Again: can anyone say what the Obama administration actually wants (or wanted) to do against Syria? Kerry said U.S. military action would be "unbelievably small" while the Pentagon expanded its list of strike targets. Obama's deputy national security adviser said that "it's neither [Obama's] desire nor intention" to authorize a strike without Congressional approval, but when asked the question himself. Obama said, "It's fair to say that I haven't decided."
The administration keeps contradicting itself. Why can't they get on the same page? Because there is no page. The only thing truly defined of Obama's plan for a U.S. strike is that it will "send a clear signal." Even the Congressional Budget Office, whose job it is to analyze these exact sorts of proposals, has no clue: "The administration has not detailed how it would use the authority that would be provided by this [Congressional authorization of force]," it wrote in its report on the Senate resolution. No one knows what Obama wants to do because he doesn't want to do anything.
As of Tuesday morning, Obama had agreed to UN Security Council discussions on international control of Syria's chemical weapons. Why did he agree? Because this is just the latest out provided for him — he can do something on Syria, without really doing anything. Since the alleged chemical weapons attack on August 21, the Obama administration has led everyone around in circles, promising to come down strong on Syria yet delaying action at every possible turn.
Perhaps Obama will finally give details of his plan for military action Tuesday evening during his address from the White House. But that seems doubtful. It will likely amount to little more than a promise to pursue UN discussions aggressively while shelving military action for the time being. That's Obama's best play right now and he knows it. He's found a legitimate option for getting out of using force, and he's going to take it. Somehow, this all worked out for the president. Maybe he's had this planned all along; maybe this was all magnificently orchestrated. Or maybe he's been making it up as he goes. The only thing we can say for certain is that no one knows what's going on.