Lord love a duck- this one’s a doozy. If you want to know the utter inanity of not just Maureen Dowd, cinnamon-haired High Priestess of Pablum, but the whole horse-racing, context-eschewing, inside-baseball Beltway media, this column could serve as something of an Ur-text.
WASHINGTON — NOT only is President Obama leading from behind, now he’s leading from behind Bill Clinton.
Leading from behind is a clever phrase and an interesting leadership strategy- subtly pushing other people to accomplish what you would like to happen- but it sounds pusillanimous and makes funny ledes, so fuck it.
After dithering for two years over what to do about the slaughter in Syria, the president was finally shoved into action by the past and perhaps future occupant of his bedroom.
Not office, of course. This is a MoDo column, so a boring piece of psuedo-titillation that is sure to elicit aghast chuckles from cocktail-swilling doyens is a must. Bedroom. That’s where sex happens! I was literally stunned she didn’t shoehorn a timely and relevant Lewinsky joke in this paragraph. (“Bill may have had a cigar or two, but our vacillating President has to let Michelle tell him if he can have his mentholated Virginia Slims.”)
Clinton told John McCain during a private Q. and A. on Tuesday in New York that Obama should be more forceful on Syria and should not rationalize with opinion polls that reflect Americans’ reluctance to tangle in foreign crises. McCain has been banging the gong on a no-fly zone in Syria for some time.
Yeah, just banging about. So hell, we should listen to him. When has McCain steered us wrong in the Middle East?
The oddity of Obama’s being taken to the leadership woodshed by the Democrat who preceded him and the Republican who failed to pre-empt him was not lost on anyone. When Obama appointed Clinton “the Secretary of ’Splaining Stuff,” he didn’t think Bill would be ’splaining how lame Barry was.
Lame! Not rushing into a complicated and brutal civil war in riven with historical and sectarian entanglements. Ugh. Just so lame. Come on, Barry. But anyway, this is just the lead-in. I’m sure she’s going to talk to some experts about the Alawite power-structure or something.
As Maggie Haberman reported in Politico, Clinton said at the McCain Institute for International Leadership that the public elects presidents and lawmakers to “look around the corner and see down the road” and “to win,” not to follow polls.
Or she’ll quote Politico.
When the man who polled where to take his summer vacation and whether to tell the truth about his affair with Monica Lewinsky tells you you’re a captive of polls, you’d better listen up.
Because…he has credibility on the subject?
Citing his own experiences in Kosovo and Bosnia, Clinton said that if you blamed a poll for a lack of action, “you’d look like a total wuss.” He added that “when people are telling you ‘no’ in these situations, very often what they’re doing is flashing a giant yellow light” of caution.
Not “looking like a total wuss” is not a reason to go to war. Although, as history shows, it is often the main reason. So let’s say not a “good reason”. But that is the whole kit and caboodle, as I’ll talk about at the end.
According to Haberman, Clinton, who apologized for failing to intervene in the Rwandan genocide, continued: “If you refuse to act and you cause a calamity, the one thing you cannot say when all the eggs have been broken is that ‘Oh my God, two years ago there was a poll that said 80 percent of you were against it.’ Right? You’d look like a total fool. So you really have to in the end trust the American people, tell them what you’re doing, and hope to God you can sell it.”
Bosnia and Rwanda were probably my formative international politics experiences. I was always into foreign affairs, but had the feeling that brutality and this kind of slaughter happened only in black-and-white. So it was shattering, and I never forgave Clinton for his delayed action in Bosnia or his negative actions in Rwanda. But now, after Iraq, after Afghanistan, I really don’t know what I would tell my teenage self. But even if my teenage self was right, and I still think he maybe was, not acting in one scenario isn’t a reason to act in another. It is that kind of blanket, ahistoric, and lazy analysis that leads to disaster.
That is the problem for Obama: selling it. The silver-tongued campaigner has turned out to be a leaden salesman in the Oval Office. On issues from drones to gun control to taxes to Syria, the president likes to cite public opinion polls to justify his action or inaction. He seems incapable of getting in front of issues and shaping public and Congressional opinion with a strong selling job.
Yeah, how come he can’t shape the opinion of a Congress dedicated to destroying him? Louie Gohmert and Paul Broun are prominent voices in Congress. There was maybe more the President could have done with public opinion, but there is no electoral loss for the huge majority of the GOP to obstruct everything (most Dems are also in safe seats, but that isn’t germane to Dowd’s point).
After the whistle was blown on the National Security Agency’s No Call Left Behind program, the president said he would welcome an ex post facto debate. But now that polls indicate that the overwhelming American attitude is “Spy on me,” Obama has dropped the subject.
Too bad. We’ll see what Americans have to say when someone in the mold of Dick Cheney or Bob Haldeman gets his hands on all that personal data; the West Wing has been known to drive its occupants nuts.
I do agree with this. Point, Maureen Dowd!
On Syria, the administration now says it will begin supplying rebels with small arms and ammunition, a gesture that friends and foes alike say is too little, too late. The Times’s Peter Baker reported on Saturday that Obama himself said it wouldn’t change anything but would maybe buy time.
Time not to rush into anything. I can’t speak for certain on the merits of the plan, and can’t speak at all for what should be done in Syria, if anything. I don’t envy the decision-makers. But time isn’t a terrible thing, either.
And as the White House announced this pittance of a policy on Thursday evening, the president was nowhere to be seen. He let his deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, be the face of the Syria plan, while he spent time at an LGBT Pride Month celebration, a Father’s Day luncheon and a reception for the W.N.B.A. championship Indiana Fever basketball team.
There’s a lot to unpack here. One constant annoyance is that people will always criticize the President for the ceremonial things that are an inescapable part of the office. “Oh, why is George Bush meeting with the Yankees when there was an earthquake in Peru?” The President wears a lot of hats, and is constantly on the move. One trait all President’s share is compartmentalization. I guarantee that as Syria discussions were happening he wasn’t rushing it along to meet the Fever. “Hurry up,” is something I promise you he never said, “I have a Fever to catch!”
On “Morning Joe” on Friday, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter national security adviser, dismissed the president’s response to Syria as “propaganda,” noting the ambiguous nature of the red line that President Assad had crossed, killing 150 people with chemical weapons after nearly 93,000 had died in the civil war.
I don’t know the context of “propaganda”, because I didn’t watch “Morning Joe”, because I honestly would rather die, but actually doing something, even something small, is the opposite of “propaganda”. I do think the broader point about why people dying from chemical warfare is somehow worse than being lined up in a dingy cell and being shot in the head, or bombed from above, or being tortured by sadistic thugs in pay of an actively cruel government, is an interesting one. That sure would make an interesting column. I’m sure that’s going to start soon, right? Or will it just be Brezezinski frowning on the face of the announcement.
“It all seems to me rather sporadic, chaotic, unstructured, undirected,” he said. “I think we need a serious policy review with the top people involved, not just an announcement by the deputy head o, f the N.S.C.”
I don’t work in Washington, nor am I a governmentician, but I am pretty sure that these things aren’t mutually exclusive.
Especially, he added, since Syria could slide into a larger regional war that would pit America against Syria’s ally, Iran, with a huge effect on the international economy and America’s budget.
I mean, I bet they’ve talked about this. But this is a Maureen Dowd specialty here. If you notice, she’s kind of using Brezezinksi to say that any of this action is rash and could lead us into war with Iran, something that is possibly true, but is the exact opposite of “not going to war is totz lame!” And it isn’t presented as an “on the other hand” scenario either. It imagines a seamless whole. It is actually kind of an amazing gift.
While the president was avoiding talking about what he hadn’t wanted to do in the first place, the former president was ubiquitous and uxorious, chatting about Syria and myriad other issues on MSNBC and Bloomberg TV; smiling on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek and offering his solutions for corporate America’s problems; presiding at his global initiative in Chicago; and promoting the woman he hopes will be the next president.
Maureen Dowd watches a lot of tv.
On Friday, a self-satisfied Clinton told the “Morning Joe” hosts about Syria, “It looks to me like this thing is trending in the right direction now.”
The less Obama leads, the more likely it is that history will see him as a pallid interregnum between two chaotic Clinton eras.
And here we go- this is the big one right here, Maureen in a nutshell. She’s a columnist, so “chaotic” eras are a good thing. Not getting involved in Syria is soooooo boring. I can get one, maybe two columns about his lack of masculinity out of that. Where’s the invented martial psychodrama I can mine for a column every other week? Where are the opportunities for hacky sex jokes? Things like issues and facts and complexities and policy are really lame compared to straining 700 words about Oedipal issues through a well-used martini shaker.
Nature abhors a vacuum. And so does Bill Clinton.
We’ll see how it feels about American involvement in a third regional war. I swear to mike, as long as I live I’ll never believe that the New York Times prints this garbage.
The point I was making earlier is that way, way too often “not looking like a wuss” is a bad reason to get involved in something potentially disastrous. First of all, “don’t be a wuss” is never a sentiment used to prod something into doing something good or smart. No one has ever said, “come on, wuss, make sure you donate a sizable portion of your tax-return to a well-vetted charity of your choice, and invest the rest in low-risk, steady-reward bonds. Pansy.” It’s always “if you don’t jump over Jagged Rock Gorge, you’ll never sleep with Suzy Cheerleader.” So you know when someone offers that prod they aren’t giving you sage counsel.
The media drives things. It shapes and molds conventional wisdom. In theory, that is a good thing. I blog and have published because I like the idea of being part of the conversation and maybe having an impact. I think being in the media, or opinion-writing of any kind, can be a noble calling, a high form of citizenship. Otherwise, all decisions are made behind closed-doors without any input from the jumbled masses. The problem is that the Mo Dowds and Politicos of the world have decided that any action is better than no action, because that doesn’t drive a narrative or open up arguments for years. So they’ll shape it and try to pressure politicians into making something, anything happen. And that’s our political culture right there. The only way to do things is the Max Power way.