OLIVE BRANCH?... or FIG LEAF?
The President's televised appeal
versus the course of Diplomacy
Thursday, September 12, 2013
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
No man surrenders from Conviction, but from Superior Force--
So, the other night, the President made his televised appeal to the People to support (through a favorable vote [at, presumably, some point] of their own representatives in both houses of Congress) his use of military force, however "limited" in scope, against Syria in response to the chemical attacks by Bashar al-Assad's regime on civilians in the suburbs of Damascus back on 21 August, should such a response still prove to be necessary in the aftermath of all the current diplomatic maneuvering.
This "diplomatic maneuvering" has been engendered by Secretary of State John Kerry's comment, during a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Monday (9 September), that Syria might well avoid being attacked by an American-led military strike should it simply give up its stockpile of chemical weapons to international control (much as the now-late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya had done in the immediate wake of the invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq more than a decade ago now), though Kerry doubted this would ever happen.
We may never really know just how "offhand" Kerry's comment really was (for we now know that President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at least broached the subject during a "pull away" conversation at the 'G20' Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia late the week before): likely, Kerry brought into the proverbial "light of day" something that the Obama Administration was hoping to propose in a more formal setting later on. But Russia seized upon it immediately and its ally Syria (that is: the al-Assad regime) itself then firmly grasped the "olive branch" (however thin it might be) this seemed to offer while, ever since then, we've been "off to the races" (or, at least, off to the United Nations Security Council)!
The interest of al-Assad is patently obvious: self-preservation (ironically, the very same reason [or so is most likely] for the chemical attacks themselves [the suburbs of Damascus in which the vast majority of its victims have lived is all too close to the air base al-Assad would need to have access to should he be forced to flee the country: neither firmly in the control of the regime while still vulnerable to rebel attack, these neighborhoods were seen as needing to be-- well-- "cleared", and quickly]).
But what is Russia's interest here? Twofold, really:
Best, then, to throw the whole "kit 'n' kaboodle" of Syria's chemical weapons into the hands of international monitors under United Nations auspices, like, NOW!
In addition, removing these chemical weapons from al-Assad's clutches also removes the very provocation for an American-led military strike against Syria in the first place (which, so Russia knows, would- in and of itself- make it that much harder for al-Assad's regime to survive which, in turn-- just see #2 above).
Meanwhile, the "Obama-bashers" here in the United States (on the Left as well as on the Right) are already all too quick to point out that this new diplomatic "initiative" on Russia's part has rendered all of the President's threatening the use of American military force during the past over a fortnight now a complete waste of time. Especially on the Right of the American ideological divide, Obama is painted as a weak, vacillating leader (which, at least at times, he has been [and I myself have complained, on this very website, about the "timorous response" to at least a few things on the part of the Obama Administration]): however, in order to maintain their own image of this President, these cannot possibly admit to those times when President Obama has actually been resolute. Thus, they refuse to see that- yes, indeed- the threat of the use of military means as a direct response to the horrific events of 21 August is, very likely, that which has the more directly caused Putin's people to so whisper in Bashar al-Assad's ear (and so getting the al-Assad regime to actually admit, publicly, that which they have so long denied- that it even has chemical weapons- is alone a proverbial "feather" in President Obama's Foreign Policy "cap"...
don't believe me? Then please see the words of General Sherman as quoted above!)
"Freedom" 's just another word for "nothing left to lose"--
Much of the punditry in the wake of the President's televised speech on the evening of 10 September has focused on his inability to have, through his very words, at all changed hearts and minds (especially as, having given his reasons for still keeping a military strike against Syria "on the table" despite all the diplomatic maneuvering already described above, he also accepted the fact that a vote in each chamber in Congress on authorization for such a strike has now been held in abeyance); in addition, there has also been much talk about how disjointed the speech seemed (as if those portions crafted for what had been the speech's original intent more than a day and a half before its delivery [that is: before John Kerry's comments at that London presser]- those in which the President specifically addressed the many concerns of ordinary Americans- were, somehow, forcibly "shoe-horned" into the rest of a speech acknowledging at least the potential for the Russian-led diplomatic "initiative") as well as the "real" reason Obama accepted Congress not taking a vote on the issue (while the Administration "spins" it this merely being the result of the simple fact that, so long as a military strike is no longer imminent [pending the outcome on the diplomatic front], such a vote would be altogether unnecessary, the alternative consensus within the Wide, Wacky and Wonderful World of Political Punditry is that it is primarily- where not solely- because Obama was about to get his Posterior kicked badly, especially on Roll Call on the Floor of the House).
Allow me to let all of you, amongst my dear readers, in on a little secret: much of what passes for the proverbial 'Conventional Wisdom' here in the United States of America is, all too often, pretty much a "bunch of hoo-ey" (and my oft-expressed sentiments in this regard is, most likely, the very reason why quite a number of the more well-known pundits no longer speak to me, let alone even deign to answer my e-mails LOL). But simply go through my own Commentaries for this website (those on contemporaneous events, as opposed to when I write about historical ones) and fairly compare what was written- at the time!- in the leading metropolitan dailies (as well as said on over-the-air and cable/satellite current affairs programs [let alone the typical radio talk show here in America]) with what *I* have written around that very same time...
I have not- or so I freely admit- always been right, for sure--- but, over the nearly decade and a half this website has been online now, I have maintained a rather high "Batting Average" ['no Brag, just Fact' ;-)]).
In this case, I did not- as I watched his speech 'Live'- see a President who was at all backing off. For his very words indicated that, while he was giving Diplomacy a fair chance (a position he himself was put in against his own better judgment, regardless of any conversations either he or his Secretary of State might have had- over the past few weeks- with the Russians regarding the al-Assad regime effectively giving up its own chemical weapons arsenal), he is not- in the least- uncommitted to using the threat of American military action (with or without allies) as a "stick" while the United Nations Security Council munches on the "carrot" (a Security Council resolution that both has "teeth" and is 'Permanent Member veto'-proof ["Good Luck with that!", by the way]).
While, or so Obama himself said: [i]tís too early to tell whether this [the Russians' (on behalf of al-Assad)] offer will succeed and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, it is also the case that the President has ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if Diplomacy fails. Translation?: should Diplomacy fail, al-Assad's regime gets hit!
That is the headline... this is the lede!
And there are all too many ways Diplomacy can fail here: differences over just how much responsibility the al-Assad regime will be forced to take for the 21 August chemical attacks within the wording of a UN Resolution itself and how much responsibility will actually thereafter be enforced; inability (because of the ongoing civil war in Syria) to safely get UN inspectors to all places where such chemical weapons are stored (requiring a cease-fire, meanwhile, merely consigns the rebels of 'Free Syria'- of whatever stripe [Islamist/Jihadist Al-Qa'eda wannabe or no]- to ultimate defeat [for al-Assad's regime itself only responds to continuing pressure from the rebels themselves: Syria's willingness to act most favorably to that which Russia has seized upon is, at least in part, about "calling a 'Time Out' " in order to upset the timing of 'Free Syria''s "Hurry-up Offense"]), etc.
IF Diplomacy fails- or so it is most clear to me from those few short sentences uttered by President Obama himself the other night (and quoted above herein)- America will thereafter strike... congressional authorization or no!
In truth, the President just about has to: for he has (as I've already said in my piece for this website of the other day) already well crossed that line of "one should not ever make threats one has no real intention- and/or ability- to actually carry out"--- it is a line he can no longer afford to cross back over. In addition (or so the overall tone of his speech suggested to me), Barack Obama is here well within the realm of "I am the only Officer of Government who has taken an Oath of Office to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States'" (as I myself have so often pointed out on this website, every other Officer of Government- Federal, State and Local: from the Vice President down to either the newly-elected member of a Village Board of Trustees or the latest recruit into one of the Branches of Our Armed Services or a State's National Guard- takes an Oath to 'support and defend' that same Constitution and 'support[ing]' the Constitution is not quite the same as 'preserv[ing] and protect[ing]' it, even whilst so 'defend[ing]' it). Thus, only a President can determine in just what manner the Constitution- or, more to the point, the very Nation which it has both created and maintained- is best so 'preserv[ed] and protect[ed]' at any given time.
Please know I myself am not here at all advocating the aggregation of Power to the President at the expense of either Congress or the People: I am here merely stating the Reality of how the White House- constitutionally (as well as institutionally)- sees its own duties and obligations and, yes, there are those times (as evidenced throughout American History) when a President must simply say "I'm now leading, so either follow-- or get out of the way!". In so many ways, the United States of America is an "Empire": thus, a President of the United States is an "Emperor" very much in the original sense of that term (Latin: Imperator-- "the Commander in Chief of all Legions") and- from time to time (hopefully, not all that often)- is compelled to act accordingly.
Ironically, it is the consistent "Obama-bashing" that has dogged the Administration since even before Barack Obama first took office back in January 2009 that most gives this President the very freedom to do just that: for he is so often "Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't"- and much within the criticism of his possible use of military force against Syria (apart from the altogether valid concerns he himself attempted to answer in his speech of 10 September) is, indeed, this ("What a weakling!" all too often transmogrifying into "How dare he act so boldly!" within the same political demographic)- that, as is so often the case with those who can't please no matter what they do, it doesn't- in the end- really matter what they do.
Earlier in this very piece, I referred to "those times when President Obama has actually been resolute"-- this happens to be one of those times: but, where there are those who never see him as ever being resolute, these then find it rather hard to deal with that which they themselves claim would never be the case in any case...
in which case, the only thing left for them to do is to well and truly hope that Diplomacy, somehow, does prevail!