Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Maureen Dowd, for crying out loud.

I'm pretty much just making an example of Dowd's column here because she really lays out the main problem I have with the genre of glib Obama foreign policy criticism, but I'm going to have to start with the title, because, uh, its first, and because, damn:

Bill Schools Barry on Syria


If I may get theological for a moment, a certain near-eastern saviour deity just exuded saline from the sheer emotion of it. Can I just get it out there that when people refer to the president as "Barry", it says more about them than it does about him, and that many people, in adulthood, do not go by the diminutives people employed regarding them when they were small, or else the non-country club world would be awash in middle-aged "Bobbies", "Skips", "Scooters" and "Juniors"?  Calling someone by their cradle name strikes me as an attempt to put them back in the playpen in order to dismiss them.  It's cheap. And Barack Obama is still president, whatever you may call him.

Anyhow, to the meat of my quibble with Dowd's column of the moment:

After dithering for two years over what to do about the slaughter in Syria, the president was finally shoved into action by the past and perhaps future occupant of his bedroom. 
Clinton told John McCain during a private Q. and A. on Tuesday in New York that Obama should be more forceful on Syria and should not rationalize with opinion polls that reflect Americans’ reluctance to tangle in foreign crises. McCain has been banging the gong on a no-fly zone in Syria for some time. 
The oddity of Obama’s being taken to the leadership woodshed by the Democrat who preceded him and the Republican who failed to pre-empt him was not lost on anyone. When Obama appointed Clinton “the Secretary of ’Splaining Stuff,” he didn’t think Bill would be ’splaining how lame Barry was.

Leaving aside the cheeky insouciance of "dithering" and "lame", it would seem that Dowd makes a common mistake in assuming that not doing anything is from lack of knowing what to do, and that waiting is not, itself, a strategy.  The rest of her column also appears to be in agreement that it is better to "be caught trying" in the words of former President Clinton, in a kind of disregard of what, exactly, one is caught trying to do.


That "what" is of extraordinary importance as the conflict in Syria begins to take on the character of one of those '70's disaster films in which all these familiar faces begin to show as the drama progresses. It's reasonable enough for President Clinton to state his opinion based on his own experience of humanitarian crises (Bosnia, Rwanda) in which intervention could achieve the goal of stopping a massacre (albeit it is generally the concession of former presidents to withhold a bit more regarding the impressions of what a current president should do), and in the case of Dowd, I am not surprised to see her boil down a complicated issue to a matter of "Quien es mas macho?"--that being her schtick. But the implication that doing something is better than nothing is a curious bit of question-begging, given our recent history.

Given what I would consider Obama's previous prudence in refraining from action in matters where American intervention would do no good (I would say the "Green Revolution" would count, and what do you think of the latest elections in Iran?) and making very limited, clear action the key in the event that the outcome was clear (assisting in the Libyan overthrow of Qaddafi, the bin Laden operation, I think, count here), I have to wonder what calculation (if any) was behind presenting a "red line" regarding chemical weapons--as well as express my concern that the recent "discovery" of apparent chemical weapons use might not have been all that solid.  I am also concerned that any involvement beyond just providing weapons (which even there has some blow back potential) is an entree into an unpleasant and protracted proxy war with Iran/Russia. 

There is a saying that we're always ready for the last war (not the present, presumed). I think we would be far better able to prepare for wars if we took the time to learn from each one ( trying to keep them sort of one-at-a-time if we could) so that we could actually absorb some of the lessons of them. We might even develop some helpful insights in avoiding them.

It is a shame, I think, that this looks like wussiness or being "lame" to prominent members of the commentariat.  I will abstain entirely from giving my opinion of those (McCain, particularly) who never seem to see a better answer than war. Not because I have no opinion regarding them. But because I, too, sometimes find it prudent to refrain.

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