Bob Davis: Tough politics and Syria
Sep 15, 2013 | 2578 views |  0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A magazine article this month may offer some of the clearest insight into President Barack Obama’s strategy — if we can call it that — regarding Syria.

In the Sept. 16 edition of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza looks at Obama’s record on climate change and how some deep-pocketed liberals are pressing him to take a more active role in combatting it.

Lizza describes the scene at a Democratic fundraiser that featured an appearance by Obama at the San Francisco home of Tom Steyer, who is described as “a fifty-six-year-old billionaire, former hedge-fund manager, and major donor to the Democratic Party.”

Many of the wealthy Democratic contributors were on a mission. Obama, they believed, had not done enough to stop the Keystone XL pipeline that was proposed to deliver oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Nor had his administration been willing to promote serious climate-change legislation.

Lizza describes the president’s response to the lobbying:

“On the issue of climate change, he was far more pessimistic. He reminded his audience that many Americans don’t share the views or the culture of Steyer’s guests. ‘The politics of this are tough,’ he said. ‘Because if you haven’t seen a raise in a decade; if your house is still twenty-five thousand, thirty thousand dollars under water; if you’re just happy that you’ve still got that factory job that is powered by cheap energy; if every time you go to fill up your old car because you can’t afford to buy a new one, and you certainly can’t afford to buy a Prius, you’re spending forty bucks that you don’t have, which means that you may not be able to save for retirement.’ He added, ‘You may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not rising to your No. 1 concern.’ ”

You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, as Bob Dylan sang, and based on the remarks above, you don’t have to wonder if Barack Obama is a political realist more willing to wrestle with the possible than worry about the unworkable. Perhaps, as his most ardent conservative detractors claim, Obama dreams of creating his version of liberal utopia. But the record indicates he’s only going to go as far as he thinks can be achieved.

So, now we come to Syria. His administration, as well as governments in France and Britain, is convinced that Syrian strongman Bashar Assad is responsible for the chemical weapons attack in late August that killed 1,429 civilians. Included in that figure are 426 children.

The United States, Britain and France weren’t slow in decrying the gas attack. Nor were those governments reluctant to raise the threat of a military response to Syria’s lawlessness.

Then, some odd things happened. The notion of British participation in a military response was put to a vote in Parliament and was narrowly defeated. That setback mostly kept British Prime Minister David Cameron on the sidelines, though it has not kept him from strongly supporting the case for a military strike against the Assad regime.

In France,President François Hollande has continued to saber-rattle. Hollande is standing by his initial and brutally frank response: France is “ready to punish” the people “who took the decision to gas innocents.”

In Washington, D.C., the movements and rhetoric have been less steady.

The White House initially seemed to indicate that Obama, in his role as commander in chief, was preparing to launch a military strike against Syria without bothering to involve Congress. Not too much, mind you, and certainly nothing that would put U.S. troops on the ground in the middle of Syria’s civil war. Pundits labelled it the “Goldilocks” approach.

Then there came an about-face earlier this month. The president wanted Congress to take a vote on launching an attack on Syria. Numerous head-counts among senators and representatives presented the president with bad news. It appeared that Congress would not give its approval for military action. That sentiment was supported by public-opinion polls that showed most Americans couldn’t support an attack on Syria.

Last week saw rapid changes. Obama went Tuesday before Americans, making the case for a military response to the “sickening” violation “of our sense of common humanity.” The speech was barely delivered when news came that Obama asked Congress to delay its vote while Russia and Syria offered a deal that would neutralize Syria’s chemical weapons.

Somewhere in there, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, wrote a column for The New York Times, which effectively told the United States to get off its high horse.

In short, this appears to be international diplomacy with the dial set to chaos.

Odd. The oh-so-careful president is either playing the game on a higher level or he’s lost his touch on this one. Perhaps in a more candid moment — similar to the one earlier this year at a San Francisco fundraiser — he might offer, “The politics of this are tough.”

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or bdavis@annistonstar.com. Twitter: EditorBobDavis.
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