Saturday, August 31, 2013

Conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy - Syria edition

For years now I've been writing about how President Obama employs conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy. After his remarks this morning regarding Syria, I think a few more people are catching on to what I mean by that. For example, here's one of my favorite quotes that describes what it looks like.
One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict. It's how you deal with people with intractable demands -- put ‘em on a committee.
What the President just did today was put the United States Congress on the "committee" to decide what we'll do about Syria's use of chemical weapons. That is a bold move that seems to have caught most everyone off guard. But it totally eliminates the position of "arm chair quarterbacks" who have taken up residence on the sidelines bitching about what is happening on the field.

Men with an ego to feed can't make this play...they're too busy thinking about how to position themselves for the "win." But, as we know, President Obama plays the long game. He knows that one way to shut up your critics is to give them some responsibility and then hold them accountable. Over the course of his Presidency, he's been asking Congress to step up to the plate and make some tough calls. After all the screaming about him needing to get Congressional approval for these actions, they're going to look like damn fools if they refuse to do so on this one. The outcome of that battle far outweighs the importance of what we do in Syria. And on this one, President Obama wins either way. Either we get a Congress that steps up to the plate, or he has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are incapable of doing so.

Nice play, Mr. President!


  1. This was a brilliant move by PBO. Apart from neutering the critics on the Left and Right, he also avoids a tricky situation at the G-20 next week.

    - closerange

  2. A brilliant move which, again, many will completely misinterpret. On the left we have people saying Obama finally caved to their pressure. On the right we have people saying it's just another example of the "avoider-in-chief".

    What neither understands is that Obama at his core is *not* someone who wants to be a dictator. There are many things he wants to accomplish and he will bend over backwards (and sometimes push the limit) to accomplish them. But what he wants most of all is for people to join him in accomplishing those things.

    You are right that this is not the act of someone whose primary motivation is self-aggrandizement. Obama wants to share the spotlight. Hell, he'd probably be find if the spotlight avoided him.

    I think the classic example of this was the photo of him and his staff watching the raid that got Osama. A Bush or a Reagan (or hell, even a Clinton) would have wanted to be in the center of the picture, looking like they were in charge. Obama was pictured sitting off to the side like he was just some office worker who just happened to be walking by when some breaking news came on the break-room TV.

    This is why I support the guy even if I don't always support every one of his specific actions (and even if I'm not sure he is making the right call on Syria).

  3. A vote by Congress to support the President would cause a crack in that wall of the GOP Obstruction!!

  4. agree with you SmartyP - I think once again PBO is playing 3D Chess and everyone else is playing twiddlywinks. I don't know how he does it but man, am I glad he's our President.


  5. President Obama, like Lincoln, will put up with a lot of shit from people as long as the job gets done. Lincoln once said of the constant pain in the ass George McClellan:

    "All I want out of General McClellan is a victory, and if to hold his horse will bring it, I will gladly hold his horse."

  6. If you're unsure about the "debate on Syria", here's all you need to know ...

    Liberals / Conservatives / The Media: "This is outrageous! Why is Obama not considering military action to help the innocent people of Syria?"

    Liberals / Conservatives / The Media: "This is outrageous! How dare Obama consider military action without consulting with Congress first. Why is he acting like all other presidents? It's unconstitutional! Who shall save us from this tyrant?"

    Liberals / Conservatives / The Media: "This is outrageous! How dare Obama consult with Congress before considering military action. He's not showing leadership like all other presidents. He's weak. Consulting Congress is not technically required by the Constitution."

    1. Perfect. Totally describes them. Be against whatever the President is for. Be for whatever they *think* will make the President look bad.

  7. SP, you were entirely correct a few days back when you suggested that we should not make too many assumptions about the Syria policy. I didn't expect this, and I still hope the President will find a path I can fully endorse ... which he may.