It is breathtaking, disheartening, and demoralizing to witness the Obama presidency self-destruct. Through a series of missteps and miscalculations it has reached the point where there are no good outcomes for Obama's presidency, the nation, or the world.
Politically, if Obama wins Congressional authorization to bomb Syria in a squeaker vote, he will have used so much political capital that there may be little left for the upcoming fights over the budget and the debt ceiling, and Congressional Democrats will likely have lost whatever chance they have of retaking the House in 2014 and guaranteed years more of Washington gridlock and inaction on the nation's pressing problems
On the other hand, if Obama becomes the first president in modern history to lose such a Congressional vote, he immediately becomes a lame duck for the remaining three years of his term.
Internationally, if Congress approves Obama's bombing of Syria over the objections of much of the international community, he sends the U.S. into an illegal war in opposition to the principals upon which he ran for, and won the presidency. (And make no mistake about it: As much as Secretary Kerry may protest to the contrary, attacking a sovereign nation with missiles and bombs, for reasons other than defense against an imminent attack, is an act of war.)
And if an Assad-regime evil enough to murder its own citizens with chemical weapons doesn't meekly "get" Obama's "message" and stop its evil ways as Obama and his Willy Loman-like war salesman John Kerry promise it will, but instead retaliates either with more chemical attacks or with violent attacks on American interests, Obama will then have to escalate and be sucked into Americanizing another civil war in the Middle East in a manner that can have no good outcomes for America, the world, or the Syrian people.
On the other, if having drawn an unnecessary "red line" against Assad's use of chemical weapons, Obama isn't authorized by Congress to attack Syria, then Obama has helped send a message to friend and foe alike that America's commitments can't be trusted and encourages nations like North Korea and Iran to seek nuclear weapons, which are far more dangerous to the future of the globe than World War I-era chemical weapons.
And lastly, Obama has given Congressional liberals and progressives -- and particularly the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus -- a Hobson's choice.
If they vote with Obama to make war on Syria out of loyalty to the first African-American president, under attack from Republicans whose racism lies just below -- and sometimes not even below -- the surface, they will be betraying their constituents, their principles and their sacred oath of office.
But if they vote their consciences and oppose the president on Syria, they will have helped Republicans turn Obama into a lame duck, lessen Democrats' chances of retaking the House in 2014, and allowed Obama to undermine their chances of making progress on domestic issues for the remainder of Obama's presidency.
At a time in which the majority of American people have become weary of war without end in the Middle East, Obama will have turned the Democrats into the Party of War and allowed the Republicans to become the Party of Peace. And like George W. Bush before him (and LBJ before that), Obama will become a War President.
If Republicans are smart enough to nominate a relative "moderate" like Chris Christie or John Kasich, Obama may even have helped turn the White House over to Republicans in 2016.
This nation -- weary from 12 years of war and five years of recession -- does not need to become another Middle East war. It needs a war for jobs, a war for economic growth, a war on poverty, a war to stop climate change. In three weeks it needs a budget resolution to prevent a government shutdown. And in six weeks it needs to raise the debt ceiling to prevent a global economic meltdown.
But whatever the outcome of the Congressional vote on Syria, Obama will have spent the last of his political capital, leaving little left for these far more important priorities.
Barack Obama, who became president in a wave of popular desire for Hope and Change, will have helped undermine both.
There are no good choices here, either politically or globally. But the best chance of preserving any Hope for the Change We Can Believe In is for Congressional Democrats to resist the Obama's administration's arm-twisting and guilt tripping and say a resounding "No" to this mad rush to war.
UPDATE: This blog was written before Putin's proposal, and Assad's apparent acceptance, to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. Obama has now apparently postponed the war vote in the Senate to explore the reality of this option. If it turns out to be real, and Obama can avoid a Congressional vote on bombing Syria, he will owe a great debt of gratitude to Putin.