We all know that Barack Obama is either a genius tactician or the puppet of a Maoist conspiracy. He’s black, and all previous black candidates for president were puppets of Maoist conspiracies. That’s why they lost. Obama won, so it therefore follows that he is a genius tactician. I introduce this airtight syllogism because his recent behavior re: Syria seems kind of weird. He said he wanted to intervene, but then he went and asked Congress, the same people who vigorously opposed his plan to put different light bulbs in the White House. Why, if Obama wants to intervene in Syria, would he seek a resolution from the most hostile House of Representatives and the most dysfunctional Senate in recent history? The answer is simple: he doesn’t want to intervene in Syria.
That is the essential contention of Wayne Bomgaars at FreakoutNation, who argues that the president’s “brilliant strategy no one seems to recognize” is to seize the moral high ground by appearing to want to intervene, then use Congressional intransigence as an excuse to avoid a problematic war. It’s a fine theory, in that it allows me to keep thinking of Obama as a great guy who agrees with me even as he pushes the country toward yet another military action in the Middle East that I and the majority of voters oppose.
The only problem with Bomgaar’s theory is that it is crazy. It is to Occam’s Razor as a surgical procedure that removes your face, runs it through a rock tumbler until your beard is gone and then reattaches your face is to a regular razor. If Obama did not want to intervene in Syria, he would probably not have spent the last month begging Congress, foreign leaders and the American people to help him intervene in Syria. The shortcut is so much shorter.
As both the CNN and the LA Times articles suggest, conventional wisdom holds that Obama would suffer badly from having his proposal rejected by Congress. “He’ll go to establishing a new high bar to what it means to being a lame duck this early,” Republican strategist Ana Navarro said. “It would be devastating, I think, for rest of his agenda.”
Ana Navarro has a vested interest in declaring the President’s agenda devastated, and it’s unclear exactly how failure to prosecute a war in Syria would make it impossible to implement the Affordable Care Act or encourage investment in green energy. That kind of scorekeeping is of little interest to anyone outside the beltway. Still, we’re speculating on what the president is thinking, and what he and other residents of Washington think about this issue may be far afield of the rest of the country.
Consider former deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, who said that failure to pass a Congressional resolution to intervene in Syria would be “a blow to the United States. Not a blow to the president, it’s a blow to the United States’ authority all over the world.” If there’s one thing the rest of the world loves about the United States, it’s our tendency to intervene militarily in the Middle East. That’s the key to our popularity, like Jim Carrey’s mastery of subtlety.
I will say this for Bomgaar’s theory: it allows me to briefly escape the depressing similarity between this moment under President Obama and 2003 under George W. Bush. Once again, we are told the United States has a moral and reputational obligation to intervene against a dictator in the Middle East.
The evidence of weapons of mass destruction is a little stronger this time, and the situation on the ground is a little more chaotic. The proposed scope of involvement is more limited, although we meet similar assurances that it will all be over quickly. Many of the principle hawks remain. The main difference is that the United States is weaker, economically and militarily, that it was ten years ago.
And yet the president insists that we must go to war again. It is enormously troubling to hear that from a man who ran on his opposition to the war in Iraq, and who many Democrats believed would be fundamentally less inclined to wield the American military than his predecessor. I want to believe this is all a kabuki act, and Barack Obama does not want war in Syria any more than I do. I worry, though, that this is the last part in the long process of dashing my hopes.