Saturday, August 31, 2013
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.
Of course, I cannot say with anything approaching certainty precisely what advice President Bush would give his successor. Just this week, while offering no public advice to Obama, Bush has noted that he "is no fan of Assad," and that if Obama moves forward with military action, he will "have the best military on earth backing him up." And, of course, 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.