Blue vs. White: Obama's handling of Syria
On Syria, Obama offers substance, not style
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 19:09
All of a sudden, it seems, resolution is more in vogue than solutions.
That is, it would seem so to you, as it has to me, if you’ve been following this Syria thing. The president, many contend, has “pivoted”, acting with, if I might paraphrase, an amateurish lack of forethought and careful planning, because the events of the past few weeks look like some sort of lack of leadership from the White House.
I’m all about careful planning and foresight as you can realistically be these days, but I can’t get behind this hatred of “pivoting”. I mean, honestly, do we want a President that doesn’t know how to move under pressure?
Let me relate a bit of what Andrew Sullivan has to say on this matter, because I think he’s got most of this right. I’ll paraphrase his thoughts briefly, though they appeared in his piece on The Dish on September 12. Sullivan suggests Obama was eyeing the long-game on this one, letting the Russian leader, with his last minute weapons deal, preen his diplomatic success worldwide (and notably in a New York Times op-ed that was widely condemned) while simultaneously handing symbolic responsibility over to Russia for the ongoing conflict. Sure, Putin’s stopped a US military strike and brokered the removal of the weapons with Obama, but surely he must now take responsibility for any future catastrophes. Especially after that ridiculous op-ed; if you haven’t read it yet, go read it now; it’s worth a laugh, even if it is a sardonic one at the audacity of a Russian autocrat lecturing the US on democracy. But, bottom-line, Sullivan suggests that this has all been a part of, if not a master plan, then at least a masterstroke, of international diplomacy.
I don’t even think you have to go that far to find a win in here for Obama; and let’s be clear, though you probably know this already if you don’t watch Fox News - a win for Obama is a win for us, and forcing a despotic regime to not only admit it has stockpiles of deadly Sarin gas but to also agree to turn it over to international control is a definite win. Even Fox News chief Roger Ailes knows it; it has been reported that, if he were President - put aside for a second the desperate, apocalyptic imagery that thought brings up - he’d get Putin in a room and offer him all the credit for a deal, any deal, because “instead of looking for one huge deal that settles everything, you take a piece of the problem and solve it. Give an incentive for good behavior. Show the other guy his self-interest. Everybody has an ego. Everybody needs dignity. And what does it cost? You get what you want you give up nothing.” I didn’t make that up, it’s in his book.
And Roger Ailes is right! You’re seeing apocalyptic imagery again, I know, but consider the Syria deal rationally for a second. It was not a few weeks ago that we were on the brink of another, if limited, military action in the Middle East. Whatever you think about the justice of such a strike, it was very likely going to happen. And now we have the first signs that disarmament of a massive stockpile of deadly gas may be under way. What did we give up besides, as the President put it recently, a few “style points”?
Sure, some will point out that the President’s style “seemed” a bit incoherent, or at least a little improvised, but you might be able to guess by my emphasis what the key word in that thought might be. It is absolutely true that this deal was precipitated by a stray comment from Secretary of State John Kerry, who suggested absurdly that the Syrian mass-murderer might unilaterally decided to disarm. But it is also true that the entire deal came of that. We won’t know for some time what the internal deliberations were like, but we can see that the President managed to take a gaffe and, with the help of Putin, make some pretty serious headway with it, all while de-escalating an impending military strike. Not bad, I’d say. And a bit better than the alternative, imaginary, steadfast President X, who presumably would have spurned the Russian offer and stuck to his guns and his rhetoric. But that’s just a ridiculous hypothetical; can you really imagine a President like that?