Pope Francis and Syrian intervention

His is better. So why no media attention?

On the Saturday before Labor Day, President Obama announced his decision to intervene in Syria and seek congressional authorization for military strikes. The next day, Pope Francis devoted his Sunday Angelus address in St. Peter’s to an appeal for peace, and a plan to seek global intercession for a nonviolent resolution.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.

What can we do to make peace in the world?

For starters, he announced a prayer campaign and launched it last Saturday with a worldwide prayer vigil. He led the one at St. Peter’s in Rome, and ended this homily with these remarks:

May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! … war never again, never again war!” (Address to the United Nations, 1965). “Peace expresses itself only in peace, a peace which is not separate from the demands of justice but which is fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love” (World Day of Peace Message, 1975). Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace! Amen.

But he didn’t end there. Francis continued his activities at his own version of shuttle diplomacy, taking his appeal directly to world leaders.

Pope Francis is exhausting all efforts to avoid a military strike on Syria. The latest is a the letter he wrote to the world leaders at the G-20 summit, that is underway in St. Petersburg, Russia. With strong words, Francis wrote that ever since the start of the conflict, “one-sided interests” have interfered with finding a “solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding.”

Francis addressed each and everyone of the G20 leaders and asked them to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”

The letter, printed in full at this link, was addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who presided over the G20 summit. But it was part of a larger initiative. The media largely ignored this remarkable appeal, this intervention by Francis and the Holy See.

Earlier, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister, held a special briefing at the Vatican for all ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to inform them of the “significance of Pope Francis’ initiative” to hold a special day of fasting and prayer on Sept. 7.

But many of the diplomats were surprised to also be handed a three-page “non paper”, or aide-memoire, detailing the Holy See’s concerns for Syria and a list of six points which it considers “important for preparing a possible [peace] plan for the future of Syria.”

The document, entitled “Regarding the Situation in Syria,” focuses on “following general principles,” which include re-launching dialogue and reconciliation, avoiding division of the country into different zones and maintaining its territorial integrity.

The Holy See asks that there be a “place for everyone” in a new Syria, in particular for minorities such as Christians. It says Alawites (President Bashar al-Assad’s ruling sect) must also have guarantees or they may emigrate or risk their own lives by remaining in the country.

“Such a risk would make it more difficult to reach a compromise with them,” the Holy See says, and it argues that all minorities must be involved in preparing any new constitution and laws.

The document proposes the establishment of a ministry dedicated to minorities, insists on the concept of citizenship with equal dignity and emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights and religious freedom. It also stresses the importance of asking “members of the opposition to distance themselves from extremists groups, isolate them and reject terrorism openly and clearly.”

The last of the six points underlines the importance of ensuring “all necessary cooperation and assistance for the immense task of reconstruction in the country.”

This really is Pope Francis’ Peace Plan. It’s amazing.

Elsewhere, the document recalls the “numerous and heartfelt” interventions by the Pope on the crisis, as well as those by the Holy See.

“Absolute priority must be given to ending the violence,” the Holy See says, adding that the “joint effort of the international community is essential.”

It stresses the importance of respecting humanitarian law and that one “cannot remain passive” in the face of continuing violations of it. “The use of chemical weapons must be stopped and condemned with particular determination,” it says.

The document is particularly strong on humanitarian assistance, saying the situation is “extremely grave” and that it’s foreseeable by the end of the year that half of Syria’s population will need assistance. To allow aid to reach all parts of the country, it calls for a ceasefire, even a partial one, and guaranteed safety for aid workers.

Recalling that the Catholic Church is “at the forefront in providing humanitarian aid,” the Holy See also appeals for “solidarity and cooperation” on all part of all governments in the region and non-governmental organizations.

The document ends by stressing the urgency of the cessation of violence, avoiding a possible “sectarian degeneration” of the conflict. It reiterates the need for dialogue and negotiation and underlines that the focus must be “on the good of the people, not the seeking of positions of power or other unilateral aims.”

A diplomat who attended the briefing said he and his colleagues were “surprised at the detail of the program,” which they saw as an effort on the Holy See’s part to restart the Geneva II negotiations.

This is news. Big, major, inspired, creative breaking news. Someone tell the media.

Obama’s war to save face?

Why did this president decide this is the time for US  intervention in Syria?

There has been no clarity, no consistency and practically no plan in his remarks, so people are having a hard time taking him seriously. Charles Krauthammer captures the essence of the moment here.

Senator Bob Corker: “What is it you’re seeking?”

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “I can’t answer that, what we’re seeking.”

— Senate hearing on the use of force in Syria, September 3

We have a problem. The president proposes attacking Syria, and his top military officer cannot tell you the objective. Does the commander-in-chief know his own objective? Why, yes. “A shot across the bow,” explained Barack Obama.

Now, a shot across the bow is a warning. Its purpose is to say: Cease and desist, or the next shot will sink you. But Obama has already told the world — and Bashar Assad in particular — that there will be no next shot. He has insisted time and again that the operation will be finite and highly limited. Take the shot, kill some fish, go home.

What then is the purpose? Dempsey hasn’t a clue, but Secretary of State John Kerry says it will uphold and proclaim a norm and thus deter future use of chemical weapons. With a few Tomahawk missiles? Hitting sites that, thanks to the administration having leaked the target list, have already been scrubbed of important military assets?

This is risible. If anything, a pinprick from which Assad emerges unscathed would simply enhance his stature and vindicate his conduct. Deterrence depends entirely on perception and the perception in the Middle East is universal: Obama wants no part of Syria.

Assad has to go, says Obama, and then lifts not a finger for two years. Obama lays down a red line, and then ignores it. Shamed finally by a massive poison-gas attack, he sends Kerry to make an impassioned case for righteous and urgent retaliation — and the very next day, Obama undermines everything by declaring an indefinite timeout to seek congressional approval.

This stunning zigzag, following months of hesitation, ambivalence, contradiction, and studied delay, left our regional allies shocked and our enemies gleeful. I had strongly advocated going to Congress. But it was inconceivable that, instead of recalling Congress to emergency session, Obama would simply place everything in suspension while Congress finished its Labor Day barbecues and he flew off to Stockholm and St. Petersburg…

And yet here is Obama, having done nothing yet but hesitate, threaten, retract, and wander about the stage, claiming Wednesday in Sweden to be the conscience of the world, upholding not his own red line but the world’s. And, incidentally, Congress’s — a transparent attempt at offloading responsibility.

This is deeply troubling for the administration’s mishandling and embarrassing show of irresponsibility, as Krauthammer points out.

Problem is, Obama promised U.S. weaponry three months ago and not a rifle has arrived. This time around, what seems in the making is a mere pinprick, designed to be, one U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times, “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”

That’s why Dempsey is so glum. That’s why U.S. allies are so stunned. There’s no strategy, no purpose here other than helping Obama escape self-inflicted humiliation.

This is deeply unserious. Unless Obama can show the country that his don’t-mock-me airstrike is, in fact, part of a serious strategy for altering the trajectory of the Syrian war, Congress should vote no.

That reference to the red line that Obama declared, then denied that he declared, is the public dissembling of a president who’s in over his head and may or may not realize that the shell game he’s so good at isn’t working this time.

Fittingly, Obama used a joint press conference in Stockholm with the Swedish Prime Minister to massage his own role in the diplomatic debacle over Syria in which Obama now finds himself. Obama insisted that he didn’t set a “red line” for action over the use of chemical weapons, but that Congress did … and so did everyone else, except Obama, of course:

“My credibility is not on the line — the international community’s credibility is on the line,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday in Sweden regarding his desire for a military strike in response to a suspected August chemical attack in Syria. He said the question is, after going through all the evidence: “Are we going to try to find a reason not to act? And if that’s the case, then I think the (world) community should admit it.”

President Barack Obama said Wednesday the “red line” he previously spoke of regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria wasn’t his own, but the world’s. “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98%” of the world’s population “passed a treaty forbidding (chemical weapons) use, even when countries are engaged in war,” Obama said in Sweden.

It’s not surprising that he can’t get a big portion of his own party or base to support him, finally. Nancy Pelosi says she doesn’t know if the president can get a majority of House Democrats to back an attack on Syria.

Remember, if you believe what Pelosi said yesterday, she’s not whipping House Democrats on this. There is, in theory, no pressure from the Democratic leadership in Congress to take one for the team here. Endgame for intervention?

Can you get a majority of your caucus? Is that important?

I don’t know. I think it would be important to get a majority in the Congress. But I don’t know if it’s important how you would break it down. These issues are not really partisan…

What was your reaction to the decision to bring this to Congress?

I was encouraging consultation. I did not believe that the President needs to get authorization from Congress. I think that it is great that he asked for it. I think that it strengthens his hand, and our country’s hand, and our moral standing to Bashar Assad to have Congress support it. But it’s a challenge for the reasons you mentioned. It’s a challenge because the country is weary of war.

Full stop.

I was driving and listening to satellite radio in the car, switching stations at times to stay on coverage of the Syria debate. I came upon a panel discussion on CNN in time to hear former Clinton administration staffer and Democratic strategist Paul Begala say, repeatedly, that American are “war weary” and that’s the main reason for lack of support on this one. He went on to say it will take at least the next 50 years or so before we begin to get over “the debacle in Iraq”, and then repeated that we’re just “war weary.”

Yes, we are. But I’m always leery of buzzwords or phrases that turn up over and over in different news sites, used by different mouthpieces for any administration of either party at any time. This one has been particularly heavy-handed with talking points with a very complicit media, hence the obvious nature of the political meme of the moment.

So why would something that seems to suggest the president is on the wrong track continue to be repeated by his backers? To give him cover. Because Americans really are war weary, and so are the smart members of Congress in both parties, enough to ask the right questions and study the ramifications of their vote.

Alas, the president seems to be floundering.

The Obama administration has stumbled from one credibility crisis to the next on Syria, and now wants Congress to rescue Barack Obama from himself. Obama declares that the stated policy of the United States toward Syria is regime change, then dithers on how to effect it. Obama draws a red line, and then does nothing at all to prepare for the possibility that Bashar al-Assad might call his bluff.

This credibility crisis goes beyond Syria, however, and extends to the whole Arab Spring, for which Obama seemed all too pleased to take credit not terribly long ago. He demanded Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and quick elections in Egypt, which turned a stable American ally into a barely-contained disaster, and then has vacillated ever since on how to handle the crisis. Obama then led a NATO intervention in Libya while claiming not to want regime change, but ended up decapitating the Qaddafi regime anyway. That replaced a brutal dictatorship that was still cooperating with the West on counter-terrorism into a failed state that has allowed for a rapid expansion of radical Islamist terror networks through the whole region.

Now Obama wants to apply the Libya model to Syria, but cannot articulate a single American interest in launching a war.

Which gets to the heart of it all. After Paul Begala made those remarks about Americans being ‘war weary’, he and other panelists engaged in the political calculations of what a strike on Syria would cost or gain the president, his administration and his party’s future in the next elections. That bugs me a lot, how moral decisions turn into political calculations, and have for so many years. This USA Today article illustrates that clearly. So does this New York Times article.

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George was on my radio show this week and I brought that up to him. He agreed, but said we shouldn’t be surprised, because everything has turned into a political calculation these days, frankly. He addressed the different angles on the Syrian debate and said it doesn’t measure up to the ‘just war’ criteria Christians apply to such interventions.

Pope Francis has called for intervention over Syria, too. And his is a plan that should unify the world.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people…

All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

This is the Syrian we, and they, need most.

Run-up to Syria

What’s about to happen?

Opinions and analyses are all over the place. Atrocities have been committed in Syria  against innocent human beings for what seems an interminably long time and have so outraged humanitarians around the world, we’ve been calling for someone to do something to stop it. But governments weren’t acting and the United Nations wasn’t acting and it was up to ‘alternative media’ to keep the generating news of it and encouragement for, well, ‘the world community’ to do something to end atrocities and save innocent lives and give people relief from terror.

The trouble is, there are so many places where people live with atrocities and terror and need humanitarian aid and relief, world leaders have to weigh it all and calculate their nation’s international commitments, while relief organizations are overloaded with work trying to respond to the need.

So leaving aside for the moment those other regions that desperately need our attention, Syria is not only in the spotlight, it just got put in the bullseye by President Obama and his chief military advisers. Because as most of the world knows, he painted himself in a corner

An assemblage of some thought provoking coverage…

As I type these words, the United States is not at war with Syria. Yet. (Firing cruise missiles at another sovereign nation, no matter how just the cause, is an act of war.) But many of the same people, plus some additions, that were, in the words of Greg Mitchell of the Nation, “So Wrong for So Long,” when it came to Iraq are now urging an obviously reluctant President Obama to “do something,” especially after reports of possible chemical weapon use by the Assad regime.

This leaves me in an increasingly familiar and uncomfortable position: total ambivalence. I understand why the use of chemical weapons changes the moral and strategic equation. There are some lines regimes should not be allowed to cross with impunity. To put it bluntly, it may be their civil war but it is our shared humanity. Not only are there limits to what governments can and should be allowed to do their citizens — two obvious examples being the use of weapons of mass destruction and genocide, which, as U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers has documented, usually go hand-in-hand — but we really don’t want to live in a world where the use of such weapons are viewed as no big deal.

Thus, my ambivalence doesn’t stem from a lack of repugnance or outrage — it stems from the fact that I’ve seen this movie before and I know that it’s not going to end well…

We invaded Iraq without understanding the difference between a Shia, a Sunni, and a Kurd, much less that Kurds could be either Shia or Sunni, and, oh yeah, Iraq was home to one of the oldest Christian communities on Earth.

Let’s consider this piece alone for the moment, though there are so many others. So…

Thus, before we fire the first cruise missile, we need to ask ourselves “what is the goal?” It can’t be regime change if no other reason than, even if you can justify it morally, the United States really, really, really stinks at regime change.

Nor can it be to “alter the equation” on the battlefield. I’m sorry but, at most, our role is analogous to that of a referee. Our “job” is to make sure that both sides play by some semblance of rules, if not for their sake, then for ours. The outcome of the contest is not our concern. Not because we see the sides as moral equivalents but because in civil wars you need to ask, “What comes next?”

And in Syria, there is every reason to believe that the answer is, to paraphrase Madame de Pompadour, “après Bashar al-Assad, le deluge.” That’s almost certainly the case for Syria’s Christian minority, who, it should be noted, are descended from the first people to be called “Christians.” The Alawites can’t be too sanguine about their prospects in a post-Assad Syria, either. And they control the military and all those weapons we are worried about.

So, if regime change and “altering the equation” are out — and I pray they are — that leaves us looking for a response that will “send a message” without entangling us in a conflict that the American people want no part of, and where we can’t even begin to imagine what “success,” as in “a reasonable chance of success,” looks like.

Yeah, I’m talking about “Just War.” I hate to bring up Iraq again (not really), but one lesson we should have learned from that debacle is that finding a “just cause” is the easy part. Nation-states can always identify some “vital interest,” which, it should be noted, is not the same thing as a “just cause,” not that anyone notices the difference. The toughest part is figuring out how to protect that interest without making matters worse.

And making matters worse is an almost inevitable result of modern warfare, especially in a region as, pardon the cliché, “volatile” as the Middle East. Unexpected consequences should be expected, which makes defining success even more difficult than usual. Al-Assad can be driven from power and replaced with a well-intentioned Sunni leader who, in turn can be replaced by (a) a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, (b) a Salafist, or (c) another authoritarian strongman. The first two would be a catastrophe for Syria’s Christians and Alawites and bad enough for non-Islamist Sunnis, and the last one would mean that hundreds of thousands of Syrians died to replace one dictator with another. Meet the new boss, basically the same as the old boss.

Everyone’s trying to figure this out.

Here’s Stanley Kurtz:

Our coming intervention in Syria already looks like a no-win proposition. If we go heavy, we’re liable to empower al-Qaeda and assorted jihadists, or tie ourselves down excessively. If we go light, we’ll seem like paper tigers. Obama’s foolish decision to turn chemical weapons use into a red line is what got us into this mess. We wouldn’t be acting now had he not trapped himself with a bluff he thought Assad would never call.

When Samantha Power’s humanitarian interventionism first emerged as an explanation for the war in Libya, many found it hard to take the administration’s stated justification for action at face value. It’s true that pleasing Egypt’s “liberal” revolutionaries by going after Gaddafi was a partial motive for the war in Libya (another mistake). Yet Obama truly shares Power’s vision of utopian interventionism, even if he’s somewhat less inclined to take political risks on its behalf than she is. We wouldn’t have gone into Libya had Gaddafi not threatened Benghazi.

This time, it’s clear that we wouldn’t be acting in Syria had Assad not used chemical weapons. As Max Boot put it, prior to the gas attack there was “approximately zero chance” that America would intervene in Syria. Obama painted himself into a corner by explicitly calling chemical weapons use a red line last year. At the time it seemed like a cost-free way of endorsing Power’s vision. It no longer does.

Supporters and opponents of the Syrian intervention agree that simply lobbing a few cruise missiles at chemical weapons storage-areas will be useless or worse. Any attack that Assad easily survives will make us look weak, turning our “red lines” into jokes.

There’s a lesson here. Humanitarian interventions seem to be limited and discrete. Threaten to massacre a city, and we block you. Use chemical weapons and we take them out. In practice, however, it doesn’t work that way. Once we enter a conflict on humanitarian grounds, anything short of well-executed regime-change tends to make us look weak.

By defining chemical weapons use as a “red line,” instead of one factor among many to be judged in context at the moment of use, we allow humanitarian concerns to compel huge, risky, and difficult-to-control adventures that go way beyond their initial stated purpose. The alternative is to come off looking ineffective by ignoring our declared limits of tolerance. In other words, all we achieve by drawing humanitarian lines before-the-fact is to surrender control of our own foreign policy.

In even other words, Obama’s Middle East policy is incoherent.

As a result, Obama has come to be more disliked in the Middle East than his predecessor:

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project finds that support for the United States is lower now in Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan than it was in 2008. Approval for Obama’s policies was only 15 percent in Muslim countries last spring; what that rate would be now in Egypt and Syria is anyone’s guess, but a safe guess would be “lower.”

Truly amazing. It is hard to imagine the level of incompetence that is required for our foreign policy to be in such disarray. But there it is.

And here we are. On August 31st, President Obama announced his decision. Sort of.

Like John Kerry, I can’t get the images of children and women and men, families dead and dying from chemical-weapons attacks out of my head. But I also don’t see an administration with any plan — only what has been described as selective outrage. (And, yes, Mr. President, the chemical weapons attack was an affront to human dignity. We have some here, too, by the way.)  And now it looks like the president wanted to strike but couldn’t take the pressure and so is going to get Congress to let him off the hook? I think it is just as well that we won’t arbitrarily intervene, months late. But it’s not confidence-inspiring. It’s not leadership.

Many have noticed.

The president just appeared in the Rose Garden to declare that he has the authority to strike Syria in a limited way to punish the regime for its barbaric use of chemical weapons. And he will strike Syria—but has decided to seek Congressional authorization before he strikes Syria.

On the face of it, this is literally nonsensical. If Obama has the authority, he does not need Congressional authorization, and since he is characterizing his need to act in moral terms, a useful punitive strike in the midst of a civil war in which thousands can be killed in a day must as a moral matter be undertaken as soon as possible in order to punish the regime and degrade its ability to kill its own people at will. Instead, he has declared his intention to wait until Congress comes back in session—in eight days—and then debate the matter for a couple of days and then vote. At which time he will act. Unless of course it votes against him. In which case…what? He has said he has the authority to strike; what does he do then?

Princeton Professor Robert P. George, an expert on constitutional law and foreign affairs and the Chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, has some sound advice.

Before finally making the call about what to do in Syria, I pray that President Obama will call President George W. Bush and request his advice on the bomb or missile attacks he is contemplating. I know President Bush. He is a good and gracious man. He would take President Obama’s call and give him the best advice he has, based on his own experience, including what he learned from his own mistakes. He would not hold it against President Obama that Obama has, for his own political reasons, demonized him and blamed him for . . . well, for just about everything his own administration has been criticized for.

I have never met President Obama, but I suspect that he and those close to him believe–quite wrongly–that President Bush is a dummy and that President Obama is vastly more intelligent. He and they may therefore believe that President Obama has nothing to learn from President Bush. That attitude in itself, if I am right about it, is reflective of the arrogance that got President Obama into this pickle in the first place. “Pride” really does “goeth before a fall.” But I hope that President Obama will, on this occasion, with so much at stake for the people of the Middle East and for the world, swallow his pride and call President Bush. The unintended side-effects of an effort to punish Assad–an evil man, to be sure–while leaving him in power (so that radical Islamists among the rebel forces will not suddenly find themselves ruling a key country and controlling its state apparatus), could be catastrophic. According to the Washington Post, this is what President Obama’s own military advisors are telling him. I suspect that President Bush would reinforce that advice, and perhaps offer some points of his own that President Obama should consider.

…I have no idea whether Obama would take Bush’s advice, whatever it is. But this is a time for the current President to seek guidance wherever he can best get it, and I have no doubt that there is guidance to be had from the man who sat for eight years in the seat in which he is now sitting, and who made some decisions that turned out well and others that turned out badly.

It may be that President Obama will have to endure some embarrassment in order to do the right thing in the case of Syria. His rhetoric has placed him out on a limb. Climbing safely back may take personal humility of a sort that the current President has not previously displayed. Here, too, talking to President Bush might help. George Bush, knowing the burdens of the presidency, and being a man of deep faith, might just be able to assist Barack Obama, man to man, in developing the perspective he needs to do the right thing, even at the cost of some personal embarrassment.

That came after days of television and radio news programs airing clips of former Senator Obama declaring his profound disapproval of the president’s handling of decisions to engage militarily in foreign conflicts and perceived threats. Then, one time this week, in all the rhetoric of the media and political pundits, I heard someone say this occasion proves the cliche that it doesn’t matter where you stand as much as where you sit in the final analysis. Obama now sits in the hot seat, and he needs help.