As I returned from the studio in Toronto at the baseball stadium from where I speak to foreign television networks, after doing my best to be respectful of the great office of president of the United States while expressing my views of the debacle of American policy in Syria on Fox News, despair for American foreign and national security policy was heavy in my thoughts. It was on the follow-up comment on the radio version of the program where I had appeared also. My thoughts wandered back many years to previous television appearances of former U.S. presidents I had watched announcing important foreign policy initiatives; president Eisenhower announcing the landing of Marines in Lebanon in 1957, a successful operation that caused no American casualties; president Kennedy's successful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962; president Johnson's successful intervention in Santo Domingo in 1965 which has been a fairly well-functioning democracy ever since; president Nixon's address following the North Korean shooting down of a U.S. reconnaissance plane in 1969; and president Reagan's address on the liberation of Grenada in 1983. All came to mind. All were precise, closely reasoned, proportionate responses that achieved their objectives. The president in each case defined the danger, the national interest, the response, the goal, and the exit strategy (where one was required). And each of these actions was crisply and professionally executed and was a justifiable and effective use of the president's authority as commander-in-chief.
After telling Neil Cavuto how reluctant I was to criticize a president of the U.S. on an American television network, given my esteem for the presidency of that country and anyone who holds that position, on request, I gently recounted the sequence of events that brought us to President Obama's remarks on Tuesday night, Sept. 10, just before I, among others, was asked to comment. Syria had long been a terrorism-exporting state, and a conduit for Iran's terrorist activities via Hamas and Hezbollah, and had severely provoked the West many times. My view, as I have often had occasion to state it, is that regimes that so affront the civilized world, when they can be disposed of easily by supporting a dissident faction, should be overthrown, as Libya's Gaddafi was. We allowed that opportunity to slip as the war within Syria deepened and became more murderous and destructive.
At that point, having effectively declined to do anything, President Obama should not have been making ex cathedra statements about Assad having to go as president of Syria if he was not going to do anything about it. He should not have been drawing red lines if he was just going to back away from them. Once it was established that the Assad government in Syria was using chemical weapons on its own civil population, the president was correct to declare this to be morally intolerable, but instead of sending punitive forces to Syrian waters and engaging in a public dialogue with himself about whether he was going to take action or not, he should either have not indicated that any counter-measures would be taken, or taken them and announced them ex post facto, like the actions taken by the presidents enumerated above. He should not have fumbled his authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States into the incapable lap of the Congress; should not have stumbled and blundered into votes for which there was no Constitutional justification, where it emerged that he could not win (even after Secretary of State Kerry said that any military action would be "unbelievably small"); should not have suggested punishing Assad without hurting him; and should not have enabled the collective penchant for idiocy in the Congress to explode in a lot of drivel about "not going to war," which absolutely no one had suggested doing. And he should not have reduced the United States to the pathetic and contemptible position of relying on some phony handover of lethal gas (which Assad claimed until a few days ago he did not possess) to the Russians, Assad's patrons, and self-declared enemies of the U.S., on an unverified and easily revocable basis. Every mistake that could be made has been made and there is no one near any aspect of this policy, such as it is, who has not made a complete ass of him/her/self, including the Republican spokesmen, such as Rand Paul and John McCain. The whole episode is a disgrace.
As I was contemplating whether America's collective brain had turned to mush and the descendants of those who elevated some of modern history's greatest statesmen to America's highest public offices had become a nation of obtuse dolts, a Damascene bolt of reassurance came through my car radio: The most obnoxious and unsuitable person in modern American public life had just been defeated. Eliot Spitzer lost his race for comptroller of New York City. That is a city notoriously capable of electing stupefyingly inappropriate people, but even New York balked at Spitzer. This was the man who persecuted Dick Grasso at the New York Stock Exchange, threatened the very distinguished John Whitehead and Ken Langone over that case; intimidated and threatened the directors of AIG and helped ruin that great company, and accused its great builder Maurice (Hank) Greenberg of crimes in the media, but did not prosecute and his civil case against him collapsed. Spitzer is resisting calls for his own emails on the AIG case, and lost the Marsh McLennan and Merrill Lynch prosecutions (that should never have been taken); and as governor and as attorney general, he committed the crime of paying for the services of prostitutes while masquerading as a pillar of probity and public morals. He is an unregenerate menace to society.
The United States re-elected an inadequate president but its largest city has held the red line on someone manifestly unfit for public office. There is a safety net of some public judgment somewhere, though it seems to require a near-death-plunge in municipal office to find it.