Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Obama’s Syrian bombing resolution and America’s credibility

President Obama’s bombing allies promptly invoked "America’s credibility" and "global security" as key reasons why Congress should vote for his resolution to punish Assad.

Their script has a timeless, polished ring, and for a good reason. It was first articulated by Henry Kissinger during the bloody closing years of the Vietnam War—quibbling publicly over the war aims of the President weakens America’s great power credibility. The president of the day must be able to demonstrate his capacity to act as ruthlessly as those tyrants who don’t bother with student protests and independently elected legislative bodies.

American patriots generally don’t give a damn what others think of their intemperate political culture. On the possible use of US military force, however, theater is as important as substance. The President mustn’t lose face in the great and lesser foreign capitals that get attention in Washington.

This is a ridiculously quaint perspective.

Few outside America recognize America’s vital interest in Syria and are hardly surprised that most Americans can’t see one either.

Today, America’s credibility—its ability to intimidate adversaries and rally friends—has little to do with maintaining a rickety bipartisan assertion that the US is accountable for orderly progress in the Middle East. More to the point, the health of its reputation internationally has a lot more to do with Washington and Obama’s capacity to improve domestic affairs, significantly.

In his first term, Obama was audacious domestically. Now he’s spending his political capital on a small piece of America’s global agenda.

John McCain and fellow Republican hawks want Obama to appeal directly to Americans for support so their votes for war will be less unpopular. Obama would better serve his legacy—and America’s international reputation—if he were more ambitious and persuasive on such issues as immigration, tax, and entitlement reform.

The New York Times today includes an embarrassing story about Obama’s year-long fret over how to nominate successfully Larry Summers as the next chair of the US federal reserve.

Nowhere in the story is it mentioned that this nomination is probably more important and more concerning internationally than the President’s plans to punish Assad or elect more Democrats in next year’s Congressional elections. Yet none of Obama’s allies point out that the Senate would be doing America and the world economy serious harm if it denied the nomination of Larry Summers.

Smooth debates on Larry Summers, immigration reform, and the budget are not likely. In any event, it’s less important that Obama win every fight as it is that he play his best hand.  

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