It's easy to beat up on President Barack Obama for his Syria debacle.
His policy to date -- if you can call it that -- is challenging for linear minds to follow: First, he takes a standoff approach to Syrian government atrocities. Then he draws a "red line" over chemical weapons, seemingly off the cuff. When that line is crossed, he ignores it. When it's crossed again, he springs into action, preparing Tomahawk missile strikes on Syria without Congressional authorization, which he has the Constitutional authority to do for a period of 60 days. Plans of the attack, in considerable detail, are leaked to the news media. Then, at the last second, after failing to get significant international support for his blueprint, he gets cold feet and turns to Congress for permission. When it looks like the Republican-led House of Representatives will shut him down, he says he may act alone again. Then, incredibly, he claims he never really drew a "red line."
Meanwhile, Syria's Assad regime has almost assuredly hidden its chemical weapon stockpiles.
I was on a panel with former Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) Thursday night. He put our country's larger and protean Middle East policy in perspective, if that's possible -- that we're all over the map, literally and factionally. Shays is right. In Egypt, we ditched Hosni Mubarak, a longtime secular ally -- an admittedly brutal one -- ultimately in favor of Sunni revolutionaries (aka the Muslim Brotherhood), whose al-Qaida and Taliban brethren we have been at war with in Afghanistan for a decade. The Brotherhood, which is banned by our chief Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, was elected in Egypt with 25 percent of the vote in an election featuring 23 political parties. Even after it predictably began turning Egypt into a Sunni Islamist state, we stuck by it with money and military hardware -- until the Egyptian army overthrew the new government in a coup -- a word we can't use lest we appear undemocratic. Then we switched sides again, supporting the secularists over the Brotherhood -- which, by the way, is systematically taking over oil-rich Libya, according to some reports, after we helped remove that nation's despot.
In Syria, we are supporting Sunni rebel groups, including al-Qaida factions, against President Bashar Assad's regime, which is propped up by Shia Iran and its transnational militia, Hezbollah, which vows to destroy Israel. Iran is now allied with its former enemy Iraq, a majority Sunni nation now run by a Shia leader whom we propped up -- before he threw us out of the country.
So in Iraq we helped the Shia; in Syria we are helping the Sunni, whom we were fighting in Afghanistan while supporting in Egypt -- before opposing them again.
Like I said, it's easy to beat up on this president right now. But criticizing Obama solves nothing. It only makes the U.S. appear less united and more unsure of itself to world audiences gleeful over American missteps.
Watching most closely are Iran's mullahs, who are just about to realize their nuclear ambitions and are studying every American move to determine if we will act to stop them in the end. That's the real elephant in the room.
Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be an awful lot of partisanship going on in Congress with Republicans, who would almost certainly support strikes under the past administration, possibly (just possibly) feeling some glee in watching Obama twist in the wind.
The stakes are too high for that. This is complicated stuff, and we should be all working together to get our president out of this mess. Even if he got himself into it.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.