Another Meep-Meep Moment? Ctd

Readers keep the spirited debate going:

This talk of a meep-meep is absurd and could only be dreamed up by Obama-bots who are just as determined to wear rose-colored-glasses with all-things Obama as you declare the Right to be obstructionist against his every move. The only crisis averted was Obama’s crisis of accountability for his red-line stance on Syrian use of chemical weapons.  The actual crisis that you and Obama keep talking about, the fact of chemical weapons being controlled and used by madmen like Assad (and/or the Islamist rebels, take your pick), is far from resolved.

A wiser person would reserve the victory dance and cheers until some Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 4.47.16 AM actual, verifiable results are forthcoming from the Russians and Syrians in producing and destroying their chemical WMD stockpiles.

Given the basement-level of trust any sane person would place in the parties involved here, extreme skepticism would seem to be warranted towards this agreement.  The appearance of progress was certainly made Tuesday – unless the primary concern was making progress towards finding a face-saving way out for Obama.  From your writing this week, it seems the latter was a more dire concern at the Dish.

I remain convinced that the actual issue of concern here remains far from resolved, and that all that has been accomplished is to kick the can down the road, postponing what is likely to be a renewed call for intervention by the U.S. in the near future.  I fully expect Syria and chemical weapons inspections, or lack thereof most likely, to still be in the news six months from now.  It will be interesting to see if Obama then ultimately follows through with his “serious threats” of “unbelievably small” attacks if (when?) Russia/Syria fail to meet their obligations.  Or whether the goalposts start getting moved by Kerry and Obama.  We shall see.

I have a post in process (update: now posted) that addresses some of these points. But my basic answer is this: what Obama has achieved is an unprecedented concession from Assad, and a much, much higher likelihood that chemical weapons will not be used again in this conflict in the way they just were. Fr0m my point of view, that’s our fundamental interest right now. And Obama has secured it – for a while. But unless we truly want Assad’s fall soon – and we obviously don’t – buying time is a perfectly good option. Another reader:

You seriously need to read James David Barber’s Presidential Character, about the primary traits of presidents and how they can predict presidential behavior. It will give you a good idea of what Obama is doing at any given moment because once you figure out what an Active-Positive is capable of then you know what Obama is capable of.

The key trait of an Active-Positive is Adaptive. Lincoln, for example, constantly looked like he was wavering between every issue during the conduct of the Civil War but in fact he was trying out every possibility towards a larger goal. Much like he wrote to Horace Greeley in that famous letter, if Lincoln had to free the slaves to preserve the Union he would; if he couldn’t to preserve the Union he would; if he freed only a portion of the slaves (the Emancipation Proclamation) he would do that. Lincoln was proved right: the Proclamation effectively blocked any European involvement and made more Union supporters into supporting the eventual end of slavery.

Adaptive A-P Presidents are more keen on compromise than the other three types (Active-Negatives won’t, Passive-Negatives might but would rather let someone else do it, Passive-Positives never want to rock any boat), and are certainly more creative in their solutions and in seeking alternate solutions as well. While the Active-Positive may look like a flip-flopper (especially to the more extremist wing of the president’s party) he’s actually shrewdly calculating the “long game” of getting his enemies to trip over themselves and his allies standing there gawking like they’ve never seen the Hand of God before.

I don’t buy into the current “story” that Obama got Kerry to float the chemical weapons solution that the Russian government quickly seized as a viable diplomatic answer. It really does look like Kerry pulled a gaffe. The genius of an Active-Positive President is to seize a gaffe and turn on a dime into making that gaffe work to his advantage.

The bad news about all this? Well, you see it makes you into the Horace Greeley of the story. Sorry (insert meaningful sympathetic pat on the back here). Hope you don’t mind. Meep-Meep.


You thought the money quote from Obama’s speech was when he agreed that the United States should not be the world’s policeman. Unfortunately, Obama contradicted this sentiment moments later with this:

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements – it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.

Last time I checked, one who enforces laws is a policeman. Although in this case, the U.S. is the self-appointed policeman. Likewise, Andrew, you are talking out of both sides of your mouth.

You claim that Obama is moving us towards a world that is less dependent on the power of the U.S and strengthening international cooperation. Obama (and his “cast-iron balls“) did this by proposing unilateral humanitarian bombs be dropped. This is wonderful community organizing. To nudge diplomacy along sometimes you need to threaten unilateral strikes. Without threats, diplomacy is just “meaningless blather” – got it. To avoid wars, we need to threaten war. I am doubtful these tactics will take us to a better place.

Chill out with the Obama hagiography; leave that to MSNBC.

Wow: the notion that the credible threat of force may make diplomacy more effective seems a strange idea to my reader. Yet it is a core feature of international relations, with successful examples littering history. And it has taken us to a better place. Syria has admitted its chemical weapons stockpile and agreed to sign on to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Another piles on:

I appreciate the way you present things, the way you get all worked up, and the way things generally work out for you, but sometimes, you seem a bit shrill when defending yourself against the readers who question you. Here’s a good example: “Has it occurred to my reader that it was necessary to actually risk another war to get the diplomatic solution we now have? ”

This was one of your responses to criticism for your seeming about-face on Obama’s performance in this Syria fiasco. It seems very flippant and smug, because I’d immediately turn it back on you, and ask: “Did it occur to YOU, at the time when you were shrieking about his leading us to war, that it was necessary to actually risk another war to get the diplomatic solution we now have?”

Another quotes me:

And you don’t have to argue that Obama is some kind of Jedi warrior who saw all this from the start (a silly idea) to see that he was able to pivot, shift, test, improvise and flush out new options in a horrible situation as the crisis careened from one moment to another.

Amen to that. Watching Serious Foreign Policy Experts debate this on TV has been mind-boggling, as they all appear to have that same “silly” expectation. But really, solving difficult problems rarely works that way, where leaders announce a goal from on high, draw a straight line from A to B, and then follow that line. Rather, Albert Herschmann had it right in 1967 when he wrote about the “Principle of the Hiding Hand.” The entire essay [pdf] is worth a read, especially for those working in or around global development.  Money quote:

Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be.

Or, put differently: since we necessarily underestimate our creativity it is desirable that we underestimate to a roughly similar extent the difficulties of the tasks we face, so as to be tricked by these two offsetting underestimates into undertaking tasks which we can, but otherwise would not dare, tackle.

This isn’t the most comforting truth in the world (especially, it seems, for the pundit class), but it’s a truth nonetheless.

Another reader:

In taking account of the President’s actions regarding Syria, and reading your view of this, I can’t help but thinking of this scene from the West Wing:

I know you can be lukewarm when it comes to Sorkin’s work, and maybe others have already sent this along as well, but it keeps running through my head as I watch the way this thing in Syria unfold (and hope it continues to).  I don’t believe that the President had all of this in mind from the start, but I think he was smart and nimble enough to see an opportunity and willing to be misunderstood for a period of time.