Bill Clinton Needs to Shut Up

The ex-president's willingness to speak out on Syria spells disaster for Obama in more ways than one.

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Bill Clinton (David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images); Barack Obama (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- I wish that when President Bill Clinton started spouting off the other day about the need for President Barack Obama to intervene in Syria's horrific civil war or risk looking like "a total fool," Obama had followed the example set by his wife when she was recently confronted by a heckler. I wish that Obama had leaped from his bully pulpit, got in Clinton's face and silenced him with a withering put-down.

But of course, that didn't happen. Instead of resisting the intensifying pressure from political enemies like Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and ostensible allies like Clinton to take the first steps down the slippery slope to another quagmire in the Middle East, Obama caved.

Trapped by his own rhetorical warning that the Syrian government would cross a "red line" if it used chemical weapons against its opponents, Obama has authorized shipments of small arms to the rebels. That aid, the president's critics warn, is too little and too late to turn the tide against the Bashar al-Assad regime, which has backing from Russia, Iran and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah. His critics will now try to bully Obama into taking more drastic action, such as imposing a no-fly zone.

And the next thing you know, we may be up to our necks in another bloody and horrifically expensive Middle Eastern conflict that, as my Washington Post colleague Eugene Robinson warns, "will not end well."

What troubles me most about this slide into another potential disaster is what it tells us about Obama's lack of political strength. Less than six months into his second term, his presidency appears to be dead in the water.

The malaise extends far beyond foreign policy. Obama is playing defense on every front. He can't get any of his domestic initiatives past the die-hard Republicans in the House of Representatives. He is beset by embarrassing disclosures about misconduct by the Internal Revenue Service and snooping by the National Security Agency. And later this week, the Supreme Court seems poised to knock out two of the civil rights movement's greatest achievements: the use of affirmative action in college admissions and key segments of the Voting Rights Act.

On top of that, he doesn't seem to have any friends.

This is the time when Obama's fellow Democrats ought to be rallying to his side. Instead, some of them, like a bombastic chorus of black left-wingers, are blasting him for not pushing a so-called black agenda that has absolutely no chance of being enacted. Others, like Clinton, are taunting him, suggesting that paying heed to widespread public opposition to deeper involvement in Syria would make him seem "like a total wuss."

That is not the kind of language politicians use about presidents they respect. That is not the kind of language used by politicians who believe that the support of the incumbent president would benefit the grandiose ambitions of their spouses. Nor is it the kind of language they use about presidents they fear. It is the kind of language they use when they, like proverbial rats, start running down the gangplank from a sinking ship.

And unless he can somehow rally the electorate into supplying him with a more cooperative Congress in the midterm election 17 months from now, there is not much Obama can do about it.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM