Another White House Miscalculation? I Think So…

United States Capitol

Obama announced tonight that he has asked Congress to postpone a vote on authorizing force against Syria.  Here’s the problem.  It was the threat of force that brought about the Russian agreement.  Without the risk of a military response, who thinks Assad would have agreed to any diplomatic option let alone admit to having chemical weapons in the first place?

The Russian strategy says if the United States withdraws its military threat, Syria will give up its chemical weapons.  If the threat of a military strike is removed from the dynamic, what motivate follow through on the Russian plan?  What’s likely to happen instead is a prolonged — a diplomatic — stalemate.

Moreover who expects the brutal attacks and counter attacks ongoing in Syria now to stop any time soon?

Obama lost the discursive side of this problem from the beginning.  Most Americans haven’t any clue about what is going on in Syria.  They know even less about what an American military response might involve in Syria.  The former is simply the American way, but the latter is the fault of poor narrative control.  Obama ceded it, mostly to his political enemies.  Quickly the American public was talking in terms of war and “boots on the ground” and complaining that enough is enough.  Very quickly the facts of the debate evolved more around hypotheticals and not facts.

Syria ConflictHow quickly we forget that the United States went to war in the name of security and human rights over false weapons of mass destruction.  We were willing to sacrifice tens of thousands — probably hundreds of thousands — of lives to fight that war.

Now we have more than merely evidence that WMDs exist, we have proof that they were used.  Unlike the Iraq War — waged to rid the world of nonexistent WMDs and the tyrant we feared would use them (if he had them) — no one promoting an attack against Syria ever made the case that we should engage in an all out war in response.  But that’s where the national discourse on the matter went and it left Obama behind.

Chaos in SyriaNow the only smart argument in favor of a military strike has been cut down.  It was the threat of a military strike that got us to a point where sides were talking about a diplomatic solution.  Whether that solution was sincere or otherwise is up to debate, but without the military option the it is an almost irrelevant question.  Assad is safe, at least for now.

And one has to wonder about the leaders, lawmakers, and voters who questioned in past conflicts about the patriotism of anyone who did not support the president how they justify their opposition today.  I agree that the “If you’re not with us you’re against us” argument is simple-minded and non-democratic, but it held sway before.  What happened this time?

If Iraq taught us anything, it should have taught us that the opinions of a poorly informed — or misinformed — public are meaningless, even dangerous.

If we are going to make smart decisions — whether political, military, or diplomatic — they need to be informed by a smart and open discussion of facts.  In this latest go around we lost the facts, lost the context.  The president certainly lost the narrative.

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2 thoughts on “Another White House Miscalculation? I Think So…

  1. Gary Farland

    It has come out that many of the chemical weapons are now in the possession of the rebels. And, of course, they are the ones who are benefiting from the attack. The Russians say that the rebels did it, perhaps with the help of certain western powers. You point out that we don’t know the facts — true. Assad said with apparent sincerity to Charlie Rose that the whole war would end if the western assistance would end. Is that true? Given the history of this country’s international actions since WWII it is hard to believe anything this government tells us. Look what they did on 9/11!


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