Kass: As Obama stumbles on Syria, his allies doggedly spin

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass discusses the political debate over Syria and Obama drawing the line to only save face on the issue. (Posted on: September 6, 2013)

Dogs aren't as beloved in Syria as they are here.

In the Middle East, our four-footed friends are generally considered unclean. They don't live inside houses. They're not allowed near a kitchen.

And they don't legislate war policy or decide the fate of millions of people.

But watching President Barack Obama stumble through his news conference from the G-20 summit last week and trying to talk us into war with Syria, I couldn't help thinking about dogs.

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It was a stupid thought, yes, but I didn't put it there. One of the president's men put it there. A guy named David Axelrod, who brought it up on Twitter.

Axelrod, the Democratic mouthpiece of Chicago mayors, is the guy who aligned himself with an inexperienced Illinois legislative back-bencher and ended up installing him in the White House.

And after the president announced he would seek congressional approval for military strikes against Syria, Axelrod signaled his journalists by spinning them a tweet.

"Big move by POTUS," read Axelrod's tweet. "Consistent with his principles. Congress is now the dog that caught the car. Should be a fascinating week!"

Consistent with his principles? Like the drone strikes? Like the NSA surveillance? Like the IRS investigations of conservative groups? Like no answers about the dead from Benghazi? All those principles?

If Axelrod thought last week was fascinating, this week should be even more entertaining. The president doesn't have the votes in Congress for his war in Syria, but he'll try to make his case in a national television address scheduled for Tuesday.

The problem is, Obama's war plans keep changing, and they're rather ambiguous. Axelrod says the dog has caught the car, but there's no telling when the car will take off again, twisting and turning and leaving that poor dog dizzy.

Obama's plan for Syria is almost like Obamacare: We're not supposed to know what we're getting until after he gets the votes.

In his news conference on Friday at the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Obama was asked repeatedly if he would go to war even if Congress voted no. Rather than answer, he dodged, although in avoidance his meaning was plain. By rhetorically voting "present," he was saying "yes."

If this is true, then what is the political exercise about? Mere theater? Or is it a Chicago Way political trick to spread the blame, avoid direct ownership and make Congress the fall guys before the next election?

For years now, the Democrats have been demonizing the War Party Republicans, and with good reason: Republicans rushed the country into wars, selling us on the threat of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction while spending American lives and American treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The American people rightly pushed the Republicans into the political wilderness. Now it seems Obama's Democrats are eager to join them in the desert.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin supported Obama's war resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said the government (under a Republican) was "guilty of a political mortal sin" by misleading Americans into Iraq.

Durbin says that this one is different. Here's how it's different. Obama and Durbin want war with Syria because chemical weapons were apparently used, with about 1,400 people dead. Yet Iraq's Saddam Hussein had already killed many more people than that with poison gas, and Democrats deemed that war sinful.

Durbin, ever with a moistened finger in the air, noted that Illinois constituents don't support Obama's Syria policy.

"They don't agree with the president, not at this moment, and his policy in Syria, and he understands that," Durbin said. "But a true leader has to step up and do what he thinks is right."