Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pants On Fire

One of the paradoxes of politics is that many people consider politicians to be master manipulators - but only when it come to fooling other people into doing something that turns out to be wicked. But manipulation is like any other tool - it doesn't care what you use it for, and I'm starting to think that we're watching a masterful plan come together on the international stage.

As soon as I'd heard that the Russian Federation was floating an idea that the al-Assad administration in Syria place the regime's chemical weapons stockpiles under international control to be secured and destroyed, I started to suspect that the Obama administration had a different agenda than the one they were publicly pushing. And when I heard this morning that it was because the Russians were running with an idea that Secretary of State Kerry had tossed out during a press conference, I was convinced.

As I see it, the con goes down like this. After having publicly delineated a Red Line with Syria over the use of chemical weapons, the United States is now in the position of having to appear to do something. And so the President begins to stir the American war machine to life in defense of the Geneva Protocol (The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare). Alarm bells go off everywhere. Here and abroad, people mobilize to oppose the United States going after the al-Assad administration, even while they condemn the apparent use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. But no-one offers any alternatives. The international community is, as usual, worthless. Since both Russia and China have Veto power in the United Nations Security Council, they can protect the al-Assad administration simply by blocking any resolutions that might have any teeth, or even simply be embarrassing.

And this is where the scheming comes in. The United States also has a Security Council Veto, and that means that it's not possible for the Russians and the Chinese, despite whatever opposition they may have to United States action, to pass a Security Council resolution condemning same. The United States was free to play Bad Cop and chew the scenery with gusto - which they have to do for the plan to work. Now, all they needed was a Good Cop.

[MARGARET BRENNAN (CBS)]: [...] And secondly, is there anything at this point that [Bashar al-Assad's] government could do or offer that would stop an attack?

SECRETARY KERRY: Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.
Press Conference by [Secretary of State John] Kerry, British Foreign Secretary [William] Hague
While this statement has been widely reported as "unplanned" and "a gaffe," the fact of the matter is that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov picked up on the comment within hours and took it to the Syrians; and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said that they welcomed the suggestion. Now, both the Russians and the French are drafting resolutions that would have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to the international community.

The Obama administration is openly skeptical of this plan. While it's easy to see this as simple war-mongering or anti-Moslem suspicion, the fact of the matter remains that you can't successfully be the Bad Cop if the subject doesn't believe the aggressive and negative stance being taken. And for the Good Cop's gambit to work, the subject must fear the Bad Cop.

Whether or not the United States is deliberately working with other international actors to play the Bad Cop, is beside the point. The United States has deliberately staked out a position that struck many people as rather extreme for the circumstances, and left a wide area of acceptable outcomes on the table for someone to pick up. Whether through pre-arranged planning, manipulative baiting or sudden inspiration sparked by a "careless" comment, they moved into the neglected "center" position.

Of course, the necessity for such a dangerous gamble is based on the idea that United States could not, itself, have simply opened with a resolution similar to what the Russians and French have put forward. Without that, this comes across as simply willfully (or ignorantly) reckless. And I suspect that where many people come down on that will depend on their opinion of the President, and how cranky they are about the feeling that they were played, along with the Syrians. The idea that the Obama Administration blundered into a workable solution is already taking hold among political conservatives, and will likely prove just as durable as the idea that the President was born in Kenya - and somehow managed to falsify all of the documentation needed to prove eligibility for the highest and most scrutinized office in the nation in pursuit of a hidden Socialist agenda.

But, despite what many on the political Left thought of President Bush, and the political Right think of President Obama, naïfs don't make it into the White House. And almost no-one, not even the President's biggest supporters, think of the man as guileless. I think that in this case, he and his advisers put on their liar's hats to good effect.

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