Last Week In American Power (and Feef #071)on September 9, 2013 at 1153
This last week has been a great week for America. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was this proud to be an American. I’ve felt a lot of hope sometimes, especially the weeks that Obama and Clinton were elected. But I’ve rarely felt that hope was delivered upon. In the last week we have begun to see, for the first time that I know of, the sort of America that I want to see.
I’ve always longed for a nation that could take its place among the nations of the world. I reject jingoism and American exceptionalism; I don’t want to be better just because we think we’re better. I want to be one of them, part of the world and its political struggles, and I want a position of leadership because we earned it, not because we bullied our way to it. That’s why events with the UN have so bitterly disappointed me since the Bush years. I think the UN is the rightful government of the world, and I think the United States should earn, and keep, a place of real leadership among that body.
So this week has been great for me. For the first time America has developed a series of Democratic politicians who know how to play the game. We actually have people who might be good enough to survive in Parliament now. This procedural footsie that we’ve been playing with the Republicans for the last ten years has forced Democrats to wise up a bit. Now the great hidden trap door of the two-party system — the mechanism by which fanatics hijack their own primaries and doom their electoral chances — is yawning beneath their feet and there’s a breed of good, strong Democrats ready to take the reins.
I don’t endorse them all, I just see them as a step in the right direction. The situation reminds me of Wendy Davis, who is awesome on women’s rights and awesome on filibustering and terrible, absolutely terrible and dire on fracking. She is totally pro-fracking, it’s a centerpiece of her campaign, I bet if you google it she’s making a lot of money from fracking lobbyists. If it wasn’t for the fact that her opposition, Greg Abbott, is exactly as bad as her on this issue plus infinitely worse on infinitely others, I would have some problems backing Davis for governor of Texas.
But it is as it is, so I don’t. She’ll do. I’ll mention my objections, pin my hopes to a change of heart, and plan to replace her quickly or work around her on the law, if we the people could find a way. I’ll do that because it seems to me that politics is about working with what is and not what should be. There is no candidate in Texas with a reasonable chance to win the governorship from Abbott besides Davis, and she’s good enough on some things, so fine. Let’s go.
Obama is, to me, one of the best of these. I enjoy his work tremendously. I’m a big fan. I don’t expect much from the President except to give speeches and act cool, and that’s what he’s doing. This Syria thing has been an absolute tour-de-force. It sort of makes me sad that so many people are missing it, because it’s been cool.
Obama opens by saying he wants to attack Syria. Fair enough. Syria really has some shit coming for the way they’ve been acting for the last couple years, and this chemical weapons thing is just too far. It doesn’t matter who’s doing it — Assad’s running the country badly enough that it happened, and as it happens he’s a murdering monster and I have no problem with dragging him in front of the Hague.
But we don’t really want to invade. We just want to talk about it. We want to get the world’s attention and say, hey, time to do something about Syria. Like it or not, a good strong saber-rattle from the President got the world talking about something important. It’s why we’re talking about it now. I’ve been following the Syrian civil war for a couple years, and never before have I had the impression that the world was interested.
So he got your attention. I know he scared you, because an American President talking about intervening in the Middle East is always scary. But you have to admit that there’s no way we’d be having this conversation if he hadn’t.
Suddenly all eyes are on Syria. Suddenly China and Russia are on the spot for blocking UN intervention. Putin’s in it for the long haul. Syria is a key ally, they have a major naval base there, if you want Russia to be a world player you want to hold on to Syria and Putin’s never really been too worried about what his puppets have to do to stay in control.
China is in a trickier position. There’s nothing in it to block Syrian intervention than a matter of principle, keeping America and other countries from intervening in things that they perceive to be “massive human rights violations” but might just be understandable little Tiananmen-type massacres, they really don’t want the world just getting involved in those willy-nilly. But Assad really is pretty awful, so in the cold light of day they’re not really willing to do much for him.
Then comes the best part — Obama gives the speech saying that he wants to intervene in Syria, he’s even picked what buildings to blow up, but it’s important that Congress approve it because he can’t act without Congressional approval. This is so perfectly obvious to be mind-blowing genius. It’s the first time that the President has asked Congress for approval of a military action, which the Constitution very clearly states that he must do, this is the first time this has happened IN MY LIFETIME. Suddenly this essential check on the power of the Presidency is restored.
And what a Congress to give it to! Fractured into four squabbling factions, unable to do anything but fitfully repeal and reconfirm Obamacare, bedeviled by the most nakedly greedy and ignorant political faction in my memory. This decision is the perfect rock on which to break the Tea Party. They are trapped, because they love war, they hate Obama, they love acting in concert with each other, and they hate making difficult and nuanced decisions. Faced with the one thing they love above all other things, a war, dangled in front of them by the one thing they cannot stand, Obama, they cannot survive. The guys who run them, the guys with the money, they want the war. But the fanatics that have their ear cannot do anything if Obama tells them to. If Obama installs a door that says “Push” then they have to pull. Team Obama’s been making a sport, in the last couple years, of dangling red meat in front of the Republicans because they know they are too divided to take it. Obama’s offered them extraordinary concessions and they can’t get it together enough to say “yes, we’ll take it.” This is the greatest expression of this strategy yet. THEY WANT THIS WAR. They can’t take it.
Witness McCain, who Obama has finally brought in close enough to kill. This will spell the end of McCain. He’s a hawk, he’s in the pocket of the defense industry, he wants to invade Syria for all the wrong reasons. He can’t resist this. He’s finally willing to work with Obama on something.
But he miscalculated, and Obama did not. McCain thought that his conservative credentials were good enough. After all, he ran against Obama. He brought the Tea Party their beloved Palin. If you think there would be anybody in the entire world who was proof against charges of collusion with the Big B. O. then it would be he.
He overestimated the base’s love for him. Obama did not underestimate their hatred. The Tea Party hates Obama so much that, if he’s for war, they’re against it. He actually found the exact dictator that they pretended Saddam was — he’s offering them their beloved war in Iraq again, this time for all the right reasons. There’s even the dreaded bogeyman of Russia to defeat, to make them feel like strong Cold Warriors again.
Nope. They can’t take it. If Obama’s for War, they’re suddenly pacifists.
The mawkish spectacle of these chickenhawks turning turtledove was worth the price of admission alone, but there’s so much more.
Saying that America will attack Syria…as soon as both houses of Congress agree that it’s okay. That’s like saying never. That’s not exactly a tight deadline. The only way they could ever get together on anything is….if Putin managed to piss them off so badly that they unite against him.
Putin is isolated, determined to stop America on general principle and protect his ally on general principle, but even he can see the way things are going. If he has to choose between Assad and Putin, then it’s Putin. It’s Putin a million times. Assad can be replaced. Assad isn’t doing a good job. He’s getting him in trouble. Maybe he should be replaced.
Since Rouhani has been elected President of Iran we’ve been making cautious diplomatic overtures, and it is bearing fruit. The mullahs who run Iran want to support Assad to the end; they’re the best ally he’s got left. Rouhani and the people of Iran, not so much. Any way you look at it, a hundred thousand people have died in Syria in the last two years, all because Assad refused to step down. It’s not making him popular, as I understand it. This situation is gently peeling Rouhani and the moderates away from the mullahs — and it’s working!
Meanwhile, Europe and the UN get to rein in the hot-headed Americans. Yes, yes, something must be done. But let the weapons inspectors do their work first. What’s the rush, unless you’re Syrian.
So now Obama’s establishing a strong, dynamic, but reasonable and deliberative nation that is equally determined to solve humanitarian crises and to play by the rules. All this and an alliance with France. I’m a happy man.