Saturday, August 31, 2013

Brilliant, Mr President

Just listened to the speech.   The President has, at the last minute, pulled a rabbit out of the hat -- calling Congress’s bluff.  With one stone, he has knocked several birds off their perch.

The speech was a coup de théâtre, and possibly planned de longue date.
The President, remember, was trained as a Constitutional scholar, long before he entered the sordid world of Presidential politics.  And quite possibly, late of an evening,
alone in his study, the fire dying in the grate,
over well-aged brandy, and a pipe replenished from the Turkish slipper that he keeps on the mantlepiece,
while the city slumbered, unencumbered with the cares
that line his stoically aging face,
he reasoned thus:

“For decades now, the Republic has been facing some disturbing trends.
(1) The ever-expanding reach of an Imperial Presidency;
together with (partially in consequence)
(2) The marginalization and (consequent) infantilization of Congress.
The latter, secular trend  has been conjuncturally exacerbated by the tantrums of the Republican Freshmen.
(3)  In an age of increasing American interventionism, there is a troubling Constitutional vagueness about who can launch an act of war.  True, the Constitution states that Congress has the power to do so -- but it refrains from stating that nobody else does, independently of Congress;  and in view of recent history, this conundrum has now become key.  
(4) True, there is the well-meaning War Powers Resolution of 1973, but that suffers from two key weaknesses, one internal and one external:
(i) The President can unleash what is an Act of War in fact if not in name without consent of Congress, so long as he gets around to “notifying” them within 48 hours;  further, he can ravage any countryside he pleases for up to sixty days before, in the absence of Congressional consent, he would have to withdraw forces -- but by then the war is a fait accompli;
(ii)  The Constitutionality of this Resolution itself  has never been settled, and is logically dependent upon the clearing-up of (3).
(5)  Even the modest provisions of the War Powers Resolution have often been honored in the breach:  for instance, the deployment of the Stuxnet virus against Iran, something that we would consider an act of war if launched against us, was done without consultation or public acknowledgement.

Now, if I take these considerations before the American people, they will fall into a deep sleep before the legal problems have even been posed, let alone argued;  and if I go before the Congress, the freshman in their beanies will throw bananas at me.    How, then, to concentrate the public mind upon these dilemmas.  What I need is (as Doctor Justice would probably put it) a coup de théâtre -- a boffo plot-twist; a jump-the-shark.”

(The pipe has now gone out; the brandy-glass stands empty.  An insight blooms, and he relaxes back in the old leather chair, that once belonged to Madison.)

“I have it.  I shall threaten unilateral military intervention into a MidEast slaughterhouse, and shall channel George W. Bush in the lead-up.   In coordination, Secretary Kerry will channel Dick Cheney.  The nation will be riveted to their TV sets; debate will flourish, pro and con.
Some Congressmen will jump up and down, demanding a voice in the decision, but no-one will pay them any attention.  Yet, in a dramatic last-minute development, I shall go live, right after the U.N. inspectors have left the theatre and everyone is expecting an imminent attack;  I shall re-iterate my conviction that the deed should be done;  but then, at the eleventh hour, I shall take Congress at its word, observing that the larger context in which this present mess in Syria is only a ripple, is whether the Congress shall continue the role envisioned for it in the Constitution, or whether it shall devolve further into a mere sideshow for media-hogs.”

Gratuit !
Lisez le conte entier

This approach masterfully compassed several objectives at once…

(A)  Had the President begun by saying he would launch against Syria only with Congressional approval, the matter would have dragged on, and not gotten Bashar’s attention.  By the time they eventually got around to a vote, the baseball season would be in full swing, some other atrocity would have happened somewhere else, and the Aug 21 incident would have dropped out of the public’s tiny attention-span.
(B)  Had the President approached Congress for approval from the outset, he would have met the usual wall of non-cooperation by those solons whose idea of governance is bashing Obamacare.   But by pretending to go forward unilaterally, he suckered them into a trap:   They demanded a say -- and now he gave it to them.
(C)  By drumming up edge-of-the-seat interest in his proposed intervention, the President managed to “run it up the flagpole” internationally, before committing himself.  Okay, so the British refused to salute.  Interesting …
(D)  He has managed both to sound extremely forceful, and to delay the actual implementation till whenever.  This gives time for the U.N. inspector’s report to come in;  for cooler heads to prevail;  for new intel to surface concerning possible rebel use of these same weapons; etc.
(E)  He is requiring each member of Congress to stand up and be counted -- put their money where their mouth is.
(F)  And if, ultimately, Congress votes nay,  the President can honor this just as Cameron honored the will of his own Parliament, thus avoiding a rash and parlous act, while yet not really climbing down or taking it all back:  rather,  the original interventionist proposal shall have been (to use the term of the dialecticians) ‘sublated’ -- aufgehoben.
(G) And if, after all this, Bashar should nonetheless go ahead and once again deploy chemical weapons, then there will be no more U.S. hand-wringing and uncertainty:  We’ll know the drill.   Obama will once again go before Congress, and if this time they vote Yea, he might even get the Brits to come in with him.  We  shall  see …

*     *     *
~ Commercial break ~
Relief for beleaguered Nook lovers!
We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

*     *     *

~ ~ ~

The Russian President likewise made a notable speech, remarkable for its apparent tone of moderation.

“I would like to address Obama as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate: Before using force in Syria, it would be good to think about future casualties,” Putin told Russian news agencies in Vladivostok during a tour of the country’s flood-stricken Far East.
Next week’s Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg would be a good forum for discussing the Syrian issue, he said, “so why not take advantage of it?”
Putin said he was sure the attack was the work of rebels trying to provoke international — and especially American — involvement in the Syrian conflict. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, he said, would have had no reason to use chemical weapons at a time when it had gained the upper hand in the fighting.
Putin said he and Obama have not discussed Syria since the incident occurred.
“The U.S. president and I certainly discussed this problem at the G8” summit in June in Northern Ireland, he said. “And, by the way, we agreed then that we would jointly facilitate peace negotiations in Geneva, and the Americans committed themselves to bringing the armed opposition to these negotiations. I understand this is a difficult process, and it looks like they haven't succeeded in this.”

Vl. Putin, announcing his new career as a male model for Hathaway shirts

But have a care.   Stalin too was a master of bluff avuncular public moderation, while murdering opponents behind the scenes.  And indeed the reporter goes on to comment:

The Russian president is fond of needling his opponents, often adopting a tone of apparent reasonableness tinged with a considerable amount of condescension. A U.S. assault on Assad’s regime would do nothing to hurt his standing, at home or in many countries abroad, where his contempt for Washington tends to play very well.

~ ~ Посмертный Одобрение

"Если бы я был жив сегодня, и в настроении для тайны,

это то, что я хотел бы читать: "

Я не делаю случае развода

Мерфи на горе.

Иосиф Сталин, и я одобрил это сообщение.)

~ ~

[Update 4 September 2013]   Contrast French autocracy:

Édouard Balladur :  «Il faut agir en Syrie»
L'ex-premier ministre défend le principe d'une intervention en Syrie et refuse un vote préalable du Parlement.
[Update 6 October 2013]  Since we posted this, the succession of military and diplomatic victories for the Obama administration  has been dazzling. Putin came round; Al-Assad has caved; and even Iran is making nice again. 
When the surprise Russian-American-Syrian initial agreement on chemical weapons was announced, we had to listen to professional Obama-bashers bloviate in the media about how, for technical reasons, dismanteling was technically impossible.  Turns out the things mostly hadn’t even been weaponized, and the dismanteling has already begun:

In normal times, this all would be the Talk of the Town;  only, the Republicans have shut down the town, and a cowed media retreats from objective assessment before the shrillness of partisan mudslinging.   Yesterday saw another triumph of intelligence planning and special-forces implementation, in which one of the few remai ning original al-Qaeda top brass was not only neutralized, but actually captured alive.   Likewise commendable was the simulataneous SEAL retaliation against the Shabaab on their home turf. By any rational measure, everyone would simply salute these carefully planned and flawlessly executed triumphs; but as the NYTimes put it on today’s front page, “the simultaneous attacks are bound to fuel accusations that the administration was eager for a showy victory.”

Again, no point even polemicizing against the Teabaggers on this:  truly we have reached post-consensus politics when they throw tantrums even about matters on which the most consensus exists -- the need to fight al-Qaeda.   You might try, not to polemicize, but to satirize this state of affairs, by imagining an apple-pie-and-motherhood scenario in which the First Lady praised the value of mothers breastfeeding and being denounced for it by, say, Michelle Bachmann -- except that that actually happened.  The satirist shrugs and casts his pen aside.

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