Michael Tomasky Serves A Fine Whine In Obama's Defense

Yesterday I did a post on the developing defense of Obama’s disastrous Syrian blunder. It was rolled out on Sunday by no one other than Obama himself.

“I think that folks here in Washington like to grade on style. So had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear, they would’ve graded it well even if it was a disastrous policy. We know that because that’s exactly how they graded the Iraq war,” Obama said on ABC’s This Week. “I’m less concerned about style points, I’m much more concerned about getting the policy right.


Though most columnists who have a modicum of self-respect left after five years of making up stuff to defend the staggering incompetence of this administration have taken a pass on this defense (The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, in particular, is not buying it). Not so with left wing bloviator, Michael Tomasky, at The Daily Beast. He gives this particular **** sandwich a solid B+. In a brief essay titled The Right’s Sickening Syria Spin, Tomasky shows just how to go about defending your guy if you have rid yourself of a sense of shame.

His main point is the tired and busted lefty excuse: George Bush.

Barack Obama has been forced to spend about 70 percent of his presidential energies trying to repair crises foreign and domestic that these people created, and forced to do so against their iron opposition on all fronts; and now that he’s achieved a diplomatic breakthrough, they have the audacity to argue that he sold America out to Vladimir Putin? It’s staggering and sickening.

Without going into the “who shot John” exercise on the domestic front, because I’d argue that you can lay the economic collapse squarely at the feet of Congressional Democrats, on the foreign front the crises have been of Obama’s own making. He has destroyed our relationships with Eastern Europe. He has turned what was clearly a win in Iraq into a defeat because he couldn’t countenance giving Bush credit for anything. Our Afghan policy might as well have been designed by the Taliban. Bush had nothing to do with the unmitigated tragedy that was the alleged Arab Spring.


On another network, there was John McCain (are these shows just going to end when he retires?) asserting that the deal was empty because the Russians “will not agree to the use of force no matter what” Assad does, which my colleague Christopher Dickey wrote yesterday is not in this fact the case.

Of course, it might end up being true—indeed it will almost certainly end up being true—that the deal cannot be fully and perfectly enforced. To point that out is to belabor the obvious. But the real questions are two. The first doesn’t concern Assad at all but is rather: can the deal be enforced well enough that these weapons are kept out of the hands of the al Qaeda–affiliated fighters in the region and other extremist groups? We don’t know the answer today, obviously. But surely the presence of international monitors, and the stern timeline of the deal, make it less possible.

The second question concerns Assad. Conservatives are now asserting that this deal means Assad has gotten away with it; that he used chemical weapons and will now pay no price. What does that even mean? If he even partly or mostly honors the terms of the deal, he’s paid a price. I suppose the critics really mean that Assad paid no military price, and strictly speaking that’s true. But do these critics really think Assad is sitting in Damascus laughing? He was afraid the world’s largest and best military was going to bomb him. And I’d bet he knows all too clearly that if he uses them again, he will be bombed. If Assad is mad enough to use them again, Obama won’t mess with Congress or even Russia. He’ll be credited by most observers—except America’s enemies and the Republican Party; food for thought there—for having shown restraint the first time, and more people will agree at that point that Assad must be punished.


Contra whatever this Christopher Dickey character came up with the agreement between the U.S. and Russia is pretty clear. There is no use of force authorized. The agreement specifically gives the UNSC jurisdiction on deciding how to proceed if Syria reneges.

The two questions Tomasky poses about Assad are pretty silly. It is the policy of the Obama administration to put Assad’s chemical weapons into the hands of al Qaeda. That is not a typo. Arming al Qaeda with chemical weapons is the logical extension of the administration’s policy of arming Syrian rebels and pursuing a policy of regime change. No one really believes there will be enough foreign troops allowed into Syria to effectively secure these weapons from armed attack.

The second point is true. Assad has objectively “gotten away with it.” Obama drew a “red line.” Assad ignored it. Assad gassed his enemies and he has not been punished economically, politically, or militarily. And yes, Assad is in Damascus laughing because he is now under the effective protection on the UN as Russian and Iranian arms continue to flow into his military. If Assad thinks he will be bombed if he used chemical weapons again, he may very well be the only human to hold that belief.

He goes on to demolish his own argument:


The Kerry-Lavrov deal is surely an imperfect outcome.


Obama strengthened Putin? Maybe, for now.

Obama showed weakness in talking about bombing and then not doing it? Well, two thirds of the American people were firmly against it.

Obama looked hopelessly weak? Sure, the policy has been confused.

Assad is still in power? Yes, he is. And sadly, there just isn’t much we can do about that.

No matter how much Texas Pete Tomasky puts on this particular **** sandwich it remains what it is. An abject failure. What Tomasky refers to as “spin” is merely objective observations that Tomasky, himself, agrees with. We have abdicated our Syrian policy to Putin. It is really hard to imagine a more chuckleheaded instance of managing a foreign policy crisis since Jimmy Carter. Obama was not only out of his depth in building international consensus; his own party would not follow his lead. In fact, the only people who still pay attention to him work at The Daily Beast.


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