Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tan of the Hour

The big takeaway for me of last week's tan suit imbroglio was the light it threw on President Obama's war aims, not in the Middle East, but inside the White House. The Anonymous Sources were so startled that they stumbled into a kind of honesty, as reported in The Daily Beast:
Those inside the administration advocating for going after ISIS in both Iraq and Syria were sorely disappointed – and lamented their boss's lack of urgency in rooting out a threat that only days before was being described in near-apocalyptic terms....
The meeting was the culmination of an intense week-long process that included series of lower level meetings and at last one Principals’ Committee that officials described as an effort to convince Obama to expand his air war against ISIS in Iraq to Syria as well. But before the meeting even started, the president seemed to have made up his mind.
Every time the Anonymi tell us that the president wants to bomb Syria, we should recall how they told us he wanted to bomb it before, or bomb Iran, or gut Social Security to balance the budget, or keep gay soldiers closeted, or name Larry Summers to the Fed chair, and understand that the operative issue for the leakers is not whether the news is true—sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't—but whether it suits their agenda.

To judge whether it's true or not, the best criterion is to look not at the relative seniority of those Senior Officials who are "unnamed because they were not authorized to speak" but at Obama's own words, even if they're as vague as Eisenhower. In the case of Syria, they're not vague at all, falling under the rubric of the "Don't do stupid shit" doctrine: Obama has always been against bombing Syria, no matter what the Anonymi say, not because he's a hippie (alas!), or out of some grand global design we can't see, but because to do so would be stupid.

Hence, no. We are not going to mount air attacks directly against the "Islamic State", only indirectly in defense of some sympathetic minority (Kurds, Yazidis, Christian Arabs, most recently Turkmen). "We" may not have a strategy, but the president does, and it actually is sort of grand: to make a stand in favor of pluralism, and to hold the stupid shit in reserve as a deterrent (hopefully, like nuclear weapons, unused).

He can't always get his way; the pro–stupid shit faction in the cabinet (led by Samantha Power?) is strong, with many allies domestically (including lots of Republicans) and internationally. And to be fair, their desire (as represented by Power) to stop horrific violence is after all commendable—the problem is that stupid shit doesn't stop horrific violence but adds to it.

The president isn't a dictator even in cabinet meetings—he's a nervous committee chairman with a lot of interests to satisfy. But he has really done a great deal to prevent US forces from doing stupid shit in Syria and Iraq (to say nothing of Ukraine), if not so much in Pakistan and Yemen (the rogue CIA runs US operations in Pakistan, and I believe pretty much in Yemen as well).

And Firebaggers, please: when Obama lends his name to a half-terrible project don't leap to assume that the Anonymi are right and he "wants" to bomb Iran or whatever it may be.

I like to think of Obama's friend and mentor Edward Kennedy, working out a way during the Bush administration to do something about inequities and inadequacies in education funding by funneling money to state school systems and ending up with the No Child Left Behind Act, in which the forces of good got the money and the forces of evil got the punishment of teachers.

Do we say our beloved Teddy "wanted" to impose crazy testing regimes and bust teachers' unions and conspired with Bush to achieve these wicked ends? We do not. We may say he made a mistake—I do, I think the deal he got was not a good one, and has had a really bad echo in the Obama Education Department and its "Race to the Top"—but that doesn't make him a bad person, just an imperfect one, which we kind of knew already. I wish we could give Obama the same kind of break, or better; given that he usually manages to stop those bad deals from going through.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.


Victor said...

FSM bless President Barack Hussein Oboma, who has been the best President in my lifetime - at least since Ike, when I was born, in 1958, and LBJ!

Ken_L said...

I'm tired of reading that events in the Middle East have "spiraled out of Obama's control", as if any US president ever had the ability to control them in the first place. Is that really the kind of world people want - one where a single individual in Washington gets to rule the world as if it's a 4 or 8 year video game, then someone else has a turn?Regardless, it's certainly not the kind of world we have, and thank god for that.

Anonymous said...

What is your evidence that Obama never wanted to bomb Syria? Just as with the Grand Bargain and with Summers as Fed Chair, the timeline suggests to me that he was heading in the wrong direction until outside forces prevented it (Republican intransigence in the case of the Bargain, public opinion in the cases of Syria and Summers)

You didn't provide any solid evidence to support your claims, not even in the links to past posts. You seem to start from the conclusion that what Obama did is Right and Good, then work backward from there.

In the case of Syria and Summers, at least I can think of reasons why Obama might have played 11-dimensional chess as you suggest. But why was he so hot on pushing a Grand Bargain that he didn't want? He didn't get anything from that.

You counsel others to accept that Obama is an imperfect person. I wonder if you should take your own advice.