I think it's entirely legitimate to say that this is a regime that does not share our worldview or our values. I do think...that as we look at how they operate and the decisions they've made over the past three decades, that they care about the regime's survival. They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing. They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them. They are able to make decisions based on trying to avoid bad outcomes from their perspective. So if they're presented with options that lead to either a lot of pain from their perspective, or potentially a better path, then there's no guarantee that they can't make a better decision.I suspect that pretty well sums up President Obama's approach to his opponents in general. His goal is to set up a situation where its in their interests to cooperate with him. This is what drives some folks on the left positively batty...he doesn't want to defeat his opponents, he wants to co-opt them.
We've seen this strategy play out over and over again. Think, for example, about how he approached the issue of ending DADT. Perhaps you'll remember how angry GLBT activists got at him for not simply issuing an executive order. What the President did instead was to co-opt the military brass into pushing for its repeal.
Rather than fight the health insurance industry and the Republicans on healthcare reform (which is what led the Clinton's to defeat), President Obama bargained with the former - using a series of carrots and sticks that provided incentives for them to transform the system.
In taking on Republican obstruction, we've seen how conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy has led to the development of a common sense caucus that is willing to break that cycle and work with the President and Democrats on finding common ground.
In the coming weeks I predict that President Obama will co-opt all the energy the Greenwalds of the world have generated about surveillance into his own platform to reform our national security apparatus.
Beyond being a pragmatic approach to change, this kind of strategy is what leads to actual transformation rather than the backlash that most often accompanies attempts to defeat your opponent. Its also an approach that goes against the grain of our western patriarchal attachment to competition and dominance as the only way to deal with an opponent. As I've talked about before, President Obama's strategy tends to align itself more with the Aikido Way.
...every technique we study in Aikido involves practicing the art of creating a change in the situation...There are no guarantees that this kind of strategy will always be executed perfectly or that it will succeed in the short run. We saw President Obama take a huge risk on coming up with a Grand Bargain in the 2011 fight over the debt ceiling and he came up short. But if what ails our system is a march towards increasing partisan polarization leading to endless rounds of backlash, its the long game that could bring about real and lasting change.
Creating this change requires four things from us:
1] We must maintain our own balance while taking theirs
2] We must react fearlessly
3] We must enter into the very center of the conflict
4] We must understand our opponent's intentions in order to achieve resolution
When we follow these four steps for creating change, we don't just change the situation, we change our opponents.