Chemical weapons are evil, but you could also say they’re a curse. They have a talismanic power to bend and distort U.S. foreign policy. Just ask George W. Bush or Barack Obama.
In 2003, then–deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz gave a lengthy interview to Vanity Fairthat caused a huge uproar, largely because the magazine shamefully distorted what he was trying to say. Wolfowitz explained that within the Bush administration there were a lot of arguments for why we should invade Iraq. Some had to do with the fact that Saddam Hussein was a state supporter of terrorism. Some had to do with how Hussein treated his own people. Others emphasized alleged links between the regime and 9/11. And so on.
Each of these arguments had proponents and opponents, Wolfowitz explained. The result was that “we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on”: weapons of mass destruction.
The problem was that focusing solely on a single issue turned out to be disastrous for the administration when the WMD never materialized. It should have been clear to everyone that few important decisions in life boil down to a single issue.
Something similar has happened to the Obama administration.
“I’m less concerned about style points; I’m much more concerned about getting the policy right,” President Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, in response to the widespread criticism that his foreign policy has been a hot mess of late.
It’s a fair point, even if a bit hypocritical for a president who goes by the moniker “No Drama Obama.”
The last few weeks have had more drama than a Desperate Housewives franchise during sweeps week. Still, if in some Mr. Magoo–like way the administration has blindly blundered into a policy victory, that’s preferable to smoothly sticking the landing on a policy failure.
The question, however, is: What policy?
In his ABC interview, the president repeatedly said that his goal is to do something about chemical weapons: “And what I’ve said consistently throughout is that the chemical-weapons issue is a problem. I want that problem dealt with.
“That’s my goal,” he declared. “And if that goal is achieved, then it sounds to me like we did something right.”
That is a huge bait-and-switch.