“Military action is always an option. You never -- and we haven't in this case – removed options from the table. We do not believe that further militarization of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action. We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage.”
-- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney briefing reporters.
One of Barack Obama’s top campaign promises in 2008 was to mend relationships with America’s European allies, badly strained by the Iraq war.
Obama even campaigned in Europe, offering voters a foretaste of the fulfillment of the promise. When nearly 200,000 German’s gathered to hear candidate Obama in Berlin in July of that year, the message for American voters was that Obama could return the luster to the American brand overseas.
Obama -- young, liberal, intellectual and with an international pedigree -- was hailed by Europeans as a full repudiation of George W. Bush’s presidency and what they said was “cowboy diplomacy.” What Donald Rumsfeld called “Old Europe” was infused with new love for Americans. Obama used that to woo moderate suburbanites who had been inundated with stories for years about America’s lowered stature with foreigners because of Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, etc.
While Americans are generally distrustful of Europeans, for the affluent, college-educated suburbanites Obama was chasing, there is a deep yearning for approval from abroad. Mocking Americans as fat, stupid hicks makes Europeans, who have lived in decline for decades, feel better about their situation. This is torture for those voters who aspire to be seen as sophisticated citizens of the world.
Obama has delivered on his promise in a big way. Obama was awarded Western Europe’s highest honor: the Nobel Peace Prize (not bad for a guy with a “kill list”) and immediately threw himself into the back-and-forth of Continental politics. Obama even allowed Europeans to take the lead in the lead to topple loony Libyan Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Under the Bush administration, foreign policy was all about working around Europe. Under the Obama administration, it’s been all about working with Europe.
Unfortunately for President Obama, these haven’t been very good times to be tied to the folks over there.
On the military front, the situation with Syria is becoming a major embarrassment. Qaddafi was deposed and killed for threatening a civilian massacre. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his minions have been on an 18-month killing spree.
But still Assad stands. His chief advantage is that Syria doesn’t have much that the Europeans want. Qaddafi was ransoming huge oil and gas deposits for European tolerance (and, presumably, invitations to Silvio Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga parties). When he got too crazy and too demanding, Qaddafi had to go. Obama obliged.
The folks getting killed in Syria, though, have the misfortune of dying on land with no petroleum underneath. Syria is significant because of its neighbors, especially Israel and Iraq, and its unsavory friends, particularly the mullahs in Iran and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But what the Europeans mostly want from the 22 million citizens of Syria is silence.
European leaders aren’t much interested in adding another war to the list for NATO, especially one that offers no hope of any spoils. European voters are extremely irritable these days, and with good cause, what with the massive debts and a collapsing economy. The same anti-incumbent sentiment that continues to course through the American electorate is running even stronger in Europe.
The last NATO gathering was all about getting out of Afghanistan, not getting into anyplace new. With Greece, Spain and Italy teetering and the overall economy in the dumps and weakening, endangered European leaders aren’t shopping for any new kinetic military operations.
Putin, sensing an opportunity to put Obama in a box, is helping prop up the regime. Russia is arming Assad and blocking efforts at the U.N. to oust his regime. While Qaddafi was mostly cut off from the world once Europe turned on him, other than his fellow megalomaniacs, Assad still has friends.
Even if Obama would like to take Assad out, there’s no way to do it under the parameters of his military doctrine. This would have to strictly be a “coalition of the willing,” an unhappy way to launch an attack that could ignite a regional conflagration. With Iran getting very jittery and fissile material piling up, that would be seriously un-cool.
Obama can trace part of his predicament on Syria to Europe’s degenerating fiscal and economic conditions. But if he loses in November, Obama will be able to put even more of the blame on his European admirers and their woeful conditions.
The Panic of 2008 exposed the weaknesses in economies around the world. As it turns out, Europe was very, very weak: low productivity, highly leveraged governments and an expanding warren of regulations that have made it even harder to change directions. America has limped back from the panic. Europe hasn’t every really emerged.
There is a broad expectation that the Continental currency, the euro, is on its way to the scrap heap and finance ministers are mostly hoping to limit debt contagion to the very sickest of governments.
Whatever happens to America’s largest trading partner in the months to come will be bad. The only question is, how bad will it be. Obama can hope that Europe keeps stumbling forward, but even that means a recessionary downdraft from across the Atlantic. If there is another panic, it will be lights out for the U.S. economy and Obama’s re-election.
Obama made closer ties to Europe a big part of his pitch in 2008. In 2012, those closer ties are looking more like a straightjacket.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“The way the story is written and way it's reported and the way the administration wants everybody to see this is he sits there with what they call the baseball cards and he chooses who lives and who dies. I can assure you if that was the Bush administration and Cheney it would be called the worst possible name.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.