The title of this post was inspired by BBC Washington correspondent Tom Geoghegan’s new analysis piece for the online Magazine.
Things are so muddled and chaotic these days – from the White House’s confused policies to the BBC’s confused coverage – that it’s hard to say at this point just how much of this is due to BBC bias and how much is due to the absolute mess the President and His minions have presented. So I’ll just go with pointing what Geoghegan and whoever else helped put this together got wrong. The numbered items are Geoghegan’s.
1. Appeal from the heart
Plain and simple, the appeal to emotion, calling the nation to war because pictures of bombed-out buildings and dead children make us feel bad. But this is supposed to be about convincing Congress, not emotional journalists or the rest of the world. I’m sure the President is not sitting there in meetings passing around pictures of bloody babies coughing up foam to Congressional leaders, going, “Come on, you guys. Think of the children!”. It’s silly to present this as a technique He’s using to persuade Congress. This is for media and public consumption, not Washington insider stuff. But Beeboid emotions have taken over for the moment, it seems, and this is presented as a genuine tactic the President is using to convince Tea Party Republicans.
2. The Oval Office Treatment
Geoghegan suggests that the President’s star power can sway intransigent Republican minds. He wrongly uses two very poor examples to set up his assertion. Speaker Boehner has been open about his skepticism on going after Assad. Even last year, before the 2012 election, he was in the “Not justified at this time” school of thought, siding with Romney and not McCain during the Republican nomination contest. However, Sen. Graham was already in favor of going after Assad even back then. So it’s bogus for Geoghegan to use his support now as evidence of some sort of Damascene conversion due to the personal touch of power.
As for Boehner, only someone completely ignorant of the world of politics and what’s currently going on in Washington can think that somehow the personal star touch got him on side. First of all, consider that Boehner, as Speaker and leader of the Republicans in the House, has a whole lot of other issues to worry about. We’re coming up on yet another budget crisis, a main part of ObamaCare is about to bite us all in the ass, so there’s defunding to discuss, and there are still ongoing investigations into the IRS scandal and Benghazi. Can you say “horse-trading” and “backdoor deals”, boys and girls? I knew you could.
Secondly, Boehner said earlier this year that bombing Syria was “premature”, and that he wouldn’t think about approving war unless there was something like a concrete plan being offered. He sort of drew his own version of a red line there, which we’ve now crossed. Supposedly, the White House has a plan now, or at least a gesture towards one. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to see this as a situation where Boehner saw a political opportunity to squeeze a concession on something else from an obviously desperate President, as well as an excuse for him to change his mind on going to war.
Geoghegan addresses none of this (at this point – he at least brings up horse-trading later), and instead presents Boehner and Graham’s support to set up his contention that the President’s personal touch and star power can persuade. Then we get the appeal to authority, citing an academic who says that weaker-minded Congressmen can get all giddy from meeting with a President and come a way with the feeling that “He listened to me”, and having had a personal effect on whatever is going to happen. There’s probably something to this, but powerful figures like Boehner and Graham are not examples of this phenomenon at all. Geoghegan should have found better examples of rank-and-file Congressmen being persuaded just from being given an audience with the President.
That academic authority he sites, by the way, is Larry Sabato, a well-known political analyst who, while often giving reasonable, impartial analysis of political trends and campaigns, tends to be a little over-enthusiastic about The Obamessiah’s magnificence. For example, in 2008, he praised Him for an historically fast setting of His transition team after being elected.
“This is really unprecedented. But it’s an unprecedented situation,” said Larry Sabato, a presidential scholar at the University of Virginia. “Obama is doing what the public and the markets demand be done — and that is to show that the next president is really in charge before he even takes the oath of office.”
How’s that “really in charge” thing going now, Larry? Actually, as the article shows, it was only His minions leaking names, and that was just for a transition team, not the real work the President had to do. And as we know now, the President was historically slow (“too cautious” – does that sound familiar?) in making judicial appointments, not to mention in more important departmental positions. He was ridiculously slow restocking the Cabinet for His second term. I guess it’s not so important to show the President is in charge after being re-elected. And don’t tell met that someone who wrote two books about the awesomeness of His political campaigns and than about how we need to tear up the Constitution and make “fairer” one is anything but Left-wing, and someone who believes this President has more going for Him than reality reflects. In other words, I’m saying that the idea that star power alone will convince a few intransigent Republicans is a bit of stretch and betrays a bit of bias.
3. Let the dogs out
The vote on Syria will be a free vote and the leadership in both Republican and Democratic parties backs Obama, but there’s still work for the whips.
“The Democrat whips will be whipping for the president,” says Sabato. “The Republican whips will be supplying their leadership with the numbers, because Boehner and Cantor will want more information on who they want to sway.
“They could send certain people [who would vote against a strike] out for coffee during the vote or say, ‘take a walk’.”
That’s not actually a tactic the President will be using, but normal Washington procedure. This is astute political analysis? What Geoghegan left out of what the Democrats will be doing is that their main argument will be that Dems must remain loyal to Him, regardless of their personal feelings about war or questionable intelligence or anything else. When he says “whipping for the president”, he simply means getting them on side. He’s not being honest about what they’ll really be saying. “Let’s go to war for party political reasons and loyalty to a man, not the country” isn’t exactly the rallying cry a BBC journalist can be proud of, so that’s left out.
And we must also remember that the door is still left wide open for the President to act anyway. So why should anyone in Congress take this seriously?
4. Horse trading
Now we get there. This should be combined with #2, and is possibly the biggest tool at His disposal. I’ve already explained why. “Discreet inducements” about easing cuts in military spending or more assurances about action in Syria? Baloney.
5. The president’s on the line
This is a combination of Geoghegan’s #2 and #3. Why stretch this out? Now we get the admission that the appeal is really about Him. “Why emasculate your president?” Shameless, but that’s where we are these days: loyalty to a man is more important than anything else. I don’t remember anything about loyalty to the President in the oath Congressmen have to take when they take their seats. And nobody at the BBC seems to mind, or wonder out loud about how dangerous this is.
I laughed at the inclusion of Sec. Kerry referring to this as a Chamberlain-esque “Munich moment”. Most of us thought that was the President’s Cairo speech back in 2009.
6. Get your lieutenants to present the case
This last one has to be a joke. Geoghegan is clearly writing this after yesterday’s comical hearing with Kerry in front of the Senate committee. He insisted that he defined war as something involving ground troops, and that these piddling little bombing runs the President wanted didn’t count. The President is not asking us to go to war, he claimed. He asked General Dempsey to back him up on this new definition as a fellow soldier who had been to war, and there was audible laughter when the General had the good sense not to. Kerry was clearly not happy, saying, “Right, pull the rug out from under me.” (last 10 seconds of the video)
Like I said above, there’s no assurance that the President will respect a No vote from Congress. Especially since He claims He wants to make a limited strike only, which He has the authority to do without Congressional approval, and has already said as much. Kerry wouldn’t even assure Sen. Paul that this wouldn’t escalate to having boots on the ground at some point. He, Sec. Hagel, and Dempsey were very clear that this resolution didn’t limit US actions to the few missiles the President and his lieutenants insist this will be.
In any case, it’s hardly considered a tactic for the Sec. of State to be called in front of the Senate to explain the case for war. And Mark Mardell was saying last week that it was Kerry the cowboy ramping up the rhetoric which forced the President to call for military action he didn’t really want to take. So it’s all a mess, and nobody at the BBC is getting it straight.
There’s another error here as well. In the inset “What the sceptics say” on the right, half way down the page, the BBC lists this as one objection:
“Threat to the US not clear”
This is completely wrong, and everyone at the BBC knows it. I say they’re lying. There is no threat to the US. That’s what the whole hypocrisy charge is about, something which the BBC has steadfastly refused to address openly and honestly. The Junior Senator from Illinois, and later as Candidate Obamessiah, was very clear in His opposition to the Iraq war because Saddam was not a threat to the US. Now He’s changed His tune to one of being the world’s policeman who enforces humanitarian international law. It’s not that those who oppose the war aren’t clear about what Assad’s threat to the US is: it’s that everyone – including those who support the war, like the President Himself – knows there isn’t any. That’s why His draft resolution (pdf file) seeking Congressional approval is about enforcing international laws about chemical weapons, and includes only vague talking points that Assad is a threat to regional stability and US national security interests. There is no imminent threat, which is what we were told was necessary to go after Sadaam. What the BBC has written here is a lie.
And again, there is no mention that the President decided He didn’t need Congressional approval to do even more against Ghaddafi in Libya than He’s claiming He wants to do now against Assad. The only difference now is there’s more political and public pressure on Him to do it. This is His own fault, not anyone else’s, yet the BBC refuses to call Him on it.
Recall this from His 2008 nomination acceptance speech, and judge for yourselves how much of it is the opposite of what He’s actually accomplished, and how the BBC has presented it to you:
We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans — have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.
As commander in chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.
His foreign policy is a disaster. He has squandered the legacy so much that the only ally we have at the moment is France. There is no clear mission on Syria, and only loud complaints from all sides forced Him to even act like He might have one. Of course, as Kerry claimed yesterday, no US troops will be put in harm’s way this time, since it’s only a couple of missiles being launched from ships hundreds of miles away, and nothing else will happen. And now He’s asking for military action with no measurable goal, based on what even the BBC has admitted is questionable, secret intelligence.
In 2002, at an early anti-Bush’s war rally in Chicago, State Senator Obamessiah said this:
What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income — to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.
That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.
Now let me be clear — I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.
He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.
I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.
I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.
We are now through the looking glass. How’s that hopey-changey stuff workin’ out for ya now, BBC? When are you going to stop shifting blame and spending so much effort to prop up this image of a canny, statesmanlike President? And when are you going to mention His Nobel Prize for Peace in this context?