Leading from Behind

Fmr. Spanish PM says Obama looks weak for decision to consult Congress

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar / AP
September 4, 2013

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar criticized President Barack Obama for his "very bad decision" to seek congressional authorization for a U.S. strike on Syria, saying that this makes the U.S. leader appear weak and unwilling to accept personal responsibility.

"What seems to be a more democratic move might have serious problems of leadership," Aznar told college students and other observers Tuesday afternoon during a discussion at the John Hopkins University in Washington D.C. "I’m not sure even so it is a wise measure."

"Leaders that do not want to take the responsibility alone and seek" the authorization of other political actors appear weak on the international stage, said Aznar, who served as Spain’s top leader from 1996 to 2004.

Aznar called Obama’s pursuit of Congressional approval "a very bad decision" and recommended that on Syria, "leadership is the answer."

His comments came as Secretary of State John Kerry and other Obama administration officials sparred with Senators on Capitol Hill over the merits of a U.S. strike on Syria.

Aznar later went on to suggest that the Obama administration’s back-and-forth debate about a Syria strike had created a "landscape of confusion" across the globe.

"This landscape of confusion its extremely serious in my view, and today, it is not good," Aznar said in response to a question from a Free Beacon reporter. "It is not good in political terms because this dispersion of a lack of vision, of political ideas, and a lack of a narrative."

Asked to elaborate on his views, Aznar said that it took the Obama administration far too long to support a military strike on embattled Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

"The Syria crisis was more easy to intervene in the beginning of the crisis," Aznar said. "In my view, the mistake was not intervening in the beginning."

Aznar went on to list "four mistakes" that the Obama administration has made along the road to requesting congressional permission to strike Syria.

Obama squandered an "opportunity to forge and manage a real position against the current regime" in Syria, Aznar said.

"The second mistake was stating publicly a red line," he added.

"The third mistake was establishing the red line in military terms, not in political terms," Aznar said, suggesting that Obama has painted himself into a tight corner.

In bungling the so-called red line, Obama "accepted [that] that the guy in question crossed the line every time he wants," Aznar said. "And then, when the situation is more or less untenable you can decide, ‘We’ll fight,’ but in favor of who? And to do what?"

Aznar said that he was shocked when the United States and Britain failed last week to take concrete action against Assad.

"It is almost unbelievable, thinking seven years ago, decades ago, that the prime minister of the United Kingdom was defeated in the parliament about this question," Aznar said. "It’s very special situation to see the president of the U.S., as the commander and chief with the authorization in this capacity decide to establish the operation, stop the operation and seek approval" from lawmakers.

"The message for the rest of the world is extremely complicated to understand," he said.

Obama’s policy has led allies such as France, which supports a U.S. strike in Syria, to appear foolish on the international stage.

"As you know very well," Aznar told the audience, "the U.S. Constitution does not require the president to get an explicit authorization before engaging in military activities abroad. It only establishes that congress has authority to declare war, something different."