Monday, September 09, 2013

Obama's Way Out

I do not do a lot of posting here about current political issues, but for this one I want to get my views on record before they become obsolete, either because my prediction is right or because it is wrong. 

Assad's offer to turn over his chemical weapons to international authorities and have them destroyed provides Obama the best opportunity he is likely to get to escape the political trap he has created for himself. If he has any sense he will agree—whether or not he believes Assad will actually do it. The only reason I can think of to expect him not to is the argument that, if he had any sense, he would not have gotten into the trap. But one mistake is a weak basis for that strong a conclusion.

15 Comments:

At 1:14 PM, September 09, 2013, Anonymous Laird said...

I agree. Obama can say he achieved the result he wanted (not that he ever had a clearly articulated result at all) and claim victory. A win-win.

 
At 2:33 AM, September 10, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 2:34 AM, September 10, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

It seems to me that over the past week or so, the only thing Obama has been doing is trying to find an elegant way out, so that he does not look indecisive or like someone who doesn't stand behind his opinion. I suppose that in order to get to the Oval office, a person has to be quite skilled and not a complete idiot which is what he would have to be to pursue the attack. But it is also true that power corrupts and it might even corrupt the thinking capabilites of the powerful.

I think this episode has two upsides on the US political market as much as I can tell from beyond the ocean. First, the realization of some democrats (those that did not support the Nobel peace prize warmonger :) ) that they can actually find some common issues with the Tea party and libertarians and that the Tea party is actually not a group of zealous christian fanatics as they are sometimes portrayed - that these people are actually minority among the Tea party and the rest of the poeple are at least worth listening to and their opinions worth at least considering. Secondly also maybe a realization among some democrats (and republicans probably as well, but they have already learned that lesson with Bush) that the solution to the problem is not just electing the right people and giving them as much power as they want, but making sure they don't have as much power as they want.

And since the war is almost certainly averted (as Hollande won't go anywhere without Obama), there were really no downsides.

 
At 3:50 AM, September 10, 2013, OpenID hudebnik said...

I agree. I'm not sure there's enough in it for Assad that he'll give Obama such a gift. But it would certainly be a way out for Obama, not only saving face but actually gaining credibility.

 
At 4:38 PM, September 10, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed. But it's not really a win-win because he expended political capital that could have used for immigration reform.

@hudebkin: Assad benefits by not losing military installations and keeping NATO out of the civil war, making him more likely (than otherwise) to prevail against the rebels.

If you were a dictator of a small country, would YOU want to get bombed by the US? Not really. And US is definitely belligerent enough for that threat to be credible even when US has little to gain from the said bombing (Lybia, Iraq etc).

 
At 6:02 PM, September 10, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

If I were dictator of a small Muslim country having a civil war, I might want to suffer a minor attack by the U.S., which seems to have been what Obama was threatening. It would do a little damage but might also increase support for me, both inside and outside my country.

 
At 6:31 PM, September 10, 2013, Anonymous John said...

There is no acceptable scenario in which Assad lives. An attack which only "sends a message" is just what is called for so long as that message is that if you behave as this man has, you will personally be the target of a superior force until the day you die, and that the day is coming quickly.

 
At 1:22 AM, September 11, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

David: I'm not so sure about that. I don't think the shelling by the NATO forces in Lybia made Gaddaffi any more popular among muslims. Also, Assad is a secular dictator, whereas there seems to be evidence that a lot of the rebels are aiming for a islamist regime. Whose support do you think he would gain if attacked by the US? He already is quietly supported by Iran, mainly for strategical reasons and because of the fact that they generally would probably support a Shia government in a Sunni country (as Iran is populated and ruled by the Shia muslims). Since most other neighbours are Sunni and the rebels are mostly Sunni and more religious (some of them to the point of attacking arameic christians as it seems), I don't think Assad can count on the support of any country but Iran regardless of the US attack. Other countries would have reasons not to allow yet another US military occupation in their area. But since that is not the case and since most of the nearby countries would rather see a more religious and more sunni regime in Syria, I don't think US airstrikes would change their mind. At best, he could hope for some volunteer foreign forces to join the fight on his side, but these usually go there for religious causes and therefore join the rebels.

 
At 10:53 AM, September 11, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tibor:

I think there is enough anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world so that being seen as targeted by the U.S. would increase Assad's support within Syria, and make Sunni regimes hostile to him less willing to oppose him.

At a small tangent, I don't think it's clear that the Alawite's are actually Shia, although they have represented themselves as such in recent years. It's rather as if there was a Catholic/Protestant conflict going on, and the Mormons decided to identify with one side or the other for tactical reasons.

 
At 11:19 AM, September 11, 2013, Blogger Patrick Sullivan said...

Alawites are believers, along with Shia, in the line of legitimacy of Ali ibn Talib. They're both 'Twelvers'.

Speaking of dictators who deserved to be deposed, today is the 40th anniversary of the demise of Salvador Allende's attempt to turn Chile into another Cuba. The results of which are well documented in James Rolph Edwards fact packed little book; Painful Birth; How Chile Became a Free and Prosperous Society.

Definitely a book deserving to be better known.

 
At 1:22 PM, September 11, 2013, Blogger Eric Rasmusen said...

I agree. If Syria would actually destroy its poison gas, this would be a success for America and Obama. It won't, or will just destroy 1/3 or so of it, but at least this way we can escape the current situation with a mite of pride.

 
At 1:29 PM, September 11, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

David: I suppose it could grant him more domestic support...or grant the US more support, but I guess the former is more likely, given that I have doubts about rockets and bombs being a good PR since even though they're quite precise today, they still manage to kill civilians. And with a clever use of civilian "shields", a skilled dictator can increase the civilan death toll even further, rallying people behind him. Still, on the other hand a US military support of the rebels, albeit limited, could encourage more Syrians who sympatize rather with the rebels but are unsure since their outlooks are unsure, to join the forces against Assad, whereas anassurance by Obama that the US will not fire a single rocket might have the opposite effect.

All in all I believe there are a lot of not very well known variables and while Assad and his generals may have better information,we can at best make guesses about what is really more profitable for him.

 
At 3:44 AM, September 13, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

Patrick:

There's a fairly detailed account of the Alawites at:

http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/islam/blfaq_islam_alawis.htm

If it is accurate, their doctrine is about as far from Islam, Shia or Sunni, as Christian doctrine is, although not in the same direction.

 
At 8:40 AM, September 15, 2013, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

I don't believe he is such a mastermind (I would if he was Machiavelli :) ) but one could see the result as a very clever political game played by Obama. A threat of an attack you don't really mean to fulfill and then a "compromise" - give up the chemical weapons and you will be OK...betting that the opponent will think the threat is real (and worth avoiding), so will come to Obama's terms. And persuading a dictator to get rid of chemical weapons without firing a single shot would be (since it is not at all clear it will yet happen that way) a praiseworthy achievement.

But I guess it is more likely this is just a fortunate coincidence (especially since the weapons have not yet been neutralized and Obama is already celebrating) that happened because of Obama's prior mistake - a threat he meant seriously betting on getting domestic voter support...which turned out to be awfully wrong.

 
At 4:00 PM, September 17, 2013, Blogger paul scott said...

I was pleased that the PM United Kingdom put the proposition in the house of Parliament, he received refusal to attack, and I think there was then a flow on around the world. I have always thought if you are going to kill me, does it matter if its a bullet or gas. But the utter lack of discrimination of gas,and to oversee the destruction of your own country its so terrible to have to do nothing.

 

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