In 1961, President John F. Kennedy experienced one of (if not the worst) foreign policy years of any first-year commander in chief. Kennedy authorized the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, was dominated by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at their summit in Vienna, and watched helplessly as the Berlin Wall was constructed.
But Kennedy learned from his disastrous freshman year. In 1962, he was the perceived victor during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in 1963, at American University, he gave a speech where he became the first president to speak about Americans' shared humanity with the Soviet Union, which led to the ratification of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in October.
Clearly, Kennedy learned from his mistakes.
This is what has always troubled me about the presidency of Barack Obama. He has remained the same ineffective communicator that he was when first he took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009.
The president is a gifted orator, but this should not be confused with communication. "Here's where we are going and why" is one of the primary functions that all U.S. presidents must serve.
Syria is the latest example of the president's Achilles heel. His failure to effectively communicate, offering instead a half-baked policy to a war-weary nation, has left many of his staunchest supporters bewildered.
During an Aug. 20, 2012, news conference the president stated:
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus."
But at a Sept. 4, 2013, news conference in Stockholm, the president stated: "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line."
The president is either attempting to have it both ways or he doesn't understand the power of the office. When the president of the United States draws a red line, especially related to the use of military force, it is a red line for the world.
While speaking to the American people about Syria, the president did an effective job outlining the atrocities of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his use of chemical weapons, but did little to articulate an endgame should military force become necessary.
Would military strikes make it more difficult or easier for Syria's chemical weapons to fall into the wrong hands? The lessons of history indicate when oppressive regimes are toppled invariably they are replaced by some variation of the same.
I wanted to hear from the president how military action in Syria was not only different from Afghanistan and Iraq, but how would it differ from the post World War II phenomenon of U.S. involvement in nations it did not understand.
Paradoxically, the president has managed to moonwalk on a road paved with gaffes and ineffective communication to reach a glimmer of light that could potentially lead to a diplomatic settlement in Syria. But it depends greatly on the diplomacy of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It remains to be seen if Putin's efforts can rescue the president from the self-induced corner that he has backed himself. If Putin fails, the president will be back at square one -- offering the inconsistent narrative of attempting to maintain what he believes is an international standard through unilateral application.
Article 6 of the Constitution establishes laws and treaties, which includes the United Nations. Under the U.N. Charter Article 2(4), the use of force is allowed only for self-defense or under the U.N. Security Council. The president obviously has neither.
So it's up to Putin to prohibit the president from using his ineffectual communication skills to sell an unpopular policy to a fractured Congress and a lethargic nation that has very little appetite for war.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.