One of the more astonishing themes to emerge from the past few weeks' focus on Syria and foreign policy has been the shallow, empty commentary about the President's foreign policy and style of negotiation. It appears that a requirement for punditry these days is a complete refusal to actually consider what this man has said in the past about how he conducts himself with regard to foreign policy. Here is a clue from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 2009:
For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
That speech was a road map to the way he conducted his response to Syria's use of chemical weapons. The threat of force combined with an invitation to negotiate. It also gave him an opportunity to actually follow the Constitution by sending the issue to Congress for a debate and authorization. And as always, that made for a loud, messy debate that our high-profile media did nothing to enhance and actually harmed.
Never let facts get in the way of our favorite vapid Sunday talking head, GSteph, who actually asked this question:
Senator Corker, Foreign Relations Committee, said-- you're not comfortable as Commander-In-Chief, it's like watching a person who's caged. The president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, "Words like ad-hoc, improvised, unsteady come to mind. This is probably the most undisciplined stretch of foreign policy in your presidency." What do you make of that?
Quoting the far-right CFR and a Republican hawk Senator from Tennessee, George? That's surely a fair representation. But never fear, because President Obama tossed it right back at him and the horrible media hacks who wanted to make a war where none was actually contemplated:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well-- you know, I-- I-- I think that-- folks here in Washington-- like to grade on style. And so had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and-- linear-- they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy. We know that, 'cause that's exactly how they graded the Iraq-- War-- until it ended up--
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So this doesn't change your view--
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: --blowing in our face.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --of President Bush.
Oops! There it is, right there on the table. Roll out the PR machine along with the war machine in 2003, get a disaster that keeps on giving. Actually follow the Constitution and try diplomacy in 2013, get a diplomatic outcome that may actually lead to keeping the whole world safer in the long run. As the President noted earlier in his interview, three weeks ago Assad was denying that he even had chemical weapons. Now he's signing the UN Convention and agreeing to submit his stockpile for destruction. I'd say that was less of an "undisciplined approach" and more of one that actually got a result, wouldn't you?
But he didn't stop there, either:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No-- no. What it-- what it-- what it says is that I'm less concerned about-- style points, I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right. And-- what I've said consistently throughout is that-- the chemical weapons issue is a problem. I want that problem dealt with. And as a consequence of the steps that we've taken over the last two weeks to three weeks, we now have a situation in which Syria has acknowledged it has chemical weapons, has said it's willing to join the convention on chemical weapons, and Russia, its primary sponsor, has-- said that it will pressure Syria to reach that agreement. That's my goal. And if that goal-- is achieved, then-- it sounds to me like we did something right.
Let's follow the whole thread here. President Obama means what he says and has been consistent from the get-go about his policies on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He states clearly that a credible threat of force is sometimes necessary to bring about a diplomatic solution. We now appear to be on a fast track to a diplomatic solution without actually lobbing one Tomahawk missile into Syria.
No matter what conservative idiots and warmongers like John McCain might say about it, I don't think anyone who actually thinks about this for thirty seconds or so would call it incoherent or wimpy at all. Last week I wrote this:
Let me suggest an argument which, if honestly made, might work better. Simply explain that we need some way to put pressure on Assad and the bad actors in the region to arrive at a diplomatic solution. As long as Russia and China give Assad cover with the United Nations to not be accountable for anything he does, there is no space to negotiate. Putting some counterpressure on him by authorizing force, whether or not it is used, gives leverage to come to a diplomatic solution.
I'm just a person on the sidelines. If I could figure it out, you'd think folks like GSteph, who have actually worked inside the White House, might be capable of it, too.
Is there some point where these pundits stop parroting stupid things politicians say and start being somewhat critical about events in play? I won't hold my breath.
As for style points, I'll take this style over the entirely predictable drumbeat of conquest we hear from Republicans all the time. Did you hear that President Obama is corresponding directly with Iran's new president? No? Well, he is, and communication is always a beautiful thing, especially if it might possibly deter Iran from a nuclear path and point them on a way out of the sanctions Iranians have suffered under for years now.
Wait for GSteph and partners to suggest that's a wimpy way to conduct diplomacy. Style points still matter to these guys and always will.