This morning, Jonathan Chait wrote what I thought was a pointless article about President Obama’s speech last night. But he offered up a great subtitle, “The East Room wouldn’t give him his deposit back.” That about sums it up. While watching it I wondered what the hell he was doing on prime time. He was making the case for war. But he was also talking about a negotiated settlement. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance going on. For example, he wanted us to know that Syria was only negotiating on chemical weapons because the United States was planning an attack. He said that we needed to keep up the pressure. And in order to do that he was… calling off the Congressional vote?
The administration would have us believe that Syria is negotiating only because the United States will use its military to uphold truth, justice, and the American way. But that isn’t what’s going on in the minds of Putin and Assad. Just like everyone else in the world, they can see that Congress is not going to give Obama the authorization to go to war with Syria. So they must assume that Obama will just go it alone. God knows there is precedent for this. What they may not realize is just how committed our not really loyal opposition is. The House Republicans are itching for a reason to impeach the president and if he went to war without getting their approval, they would impeach him faster than you can say “Monica Lewinsky.”
Given all this, I wonder if Assad isn’t interested in this chemical weapons deal as a way to jump start a broader deal to end the civil war. Probably not. It is more likely that he is looking back at Gaddafi and Hussein and thinking, “It doesn’t matter what the law says, this country will not stop until I am dead.” After all, despite the totally illegal and unjustified war in Iraq, Hussein is still dead. But regardless of what Assad is thinking, I hope that this chemical weapons deal will lead to a broader agreement on the civil war.
The worst part of Obama’s speech last night was when he hammered on the intelligence. As it is, I don’t much care if chemical weapons were used and by whom. It is terrible, of course, but there are all kinds of terrible things happening in the world that we don’t seem to care about. There are two problems with the focus on intelligence. First, it implies that the issue is the intelligence, as if everyone would be in favor of an attack if only we knew. Second, I know that the intelligence is less solid as he says. Yet he was claiming that we “know.” Sorry, but I don’t buy that. There have got to be uncertainties and the fact that he doesn’t admit that makes me think they are large.
He said that we are not the world’s police force. But then he went on to admit that yes, we are the world’s police force. Because we are “exceptional” (Oh, how I hate that word!) we are the only ones to do it. Well, he’s completely wrong when he claims that we have the moral authority to do it. We are at best in murky waters. And I still don’t understand why 110,000 deaths were just fine with us, but these 1,400 deaths (a number I continue to be skeptical about) do matter. The whole idea that chemical weapons are wrong because they are indiscriminate strikes me as absurd. Modern warfare doesn’t exactly have a “front.” Civilians are everywhere and bombs are indiscriminate.
I’m not that fond of Lawrence O’Donnell, but I thought he nailed the issue last night on The Last Word:
It seems to me that Obama’s speech last night was for face saving. He could have just canceled it. But he seems to want to continue to make the argument that regarding Syria, he is a righteous one. It doesn’t much matter to me. As long as we get a negotiated settlement, he can brag all he likes.