Hoist on his own petard
September 13, 2013
So it looks like the war on Syria has been postponed. The President came out and gave a lovely speech about it. He went on and on about how horrible chemical weapons are, that they kill indiscriminately without choosing between soldiers and children. Kind of like missiles or unmanned drones dropping bombs out of the sky, or a nut in a suicide vest blowing himself up in the marketplace. There’s nothing good about war in any form.
The President talked about the international norm that has prevented the use of chemical weapons since WWI, except in a long list of places. We built up a huge stockpile of them. You can drive to Tooele and look at them if you want. They are destroying them, but there are still a few bunkers full of rusty containers sitting out there in the desert. He described the threat of the chemical weapons spreading. And the more he talked, the more it sounded like Condi Rice talking about Saddam’s mushroom-shaped cloud. We’ve seen this one before.
Right about at the point in the speech where the next sentence should have started with, "Therefore, I have ordered a missile strike to begin " things took a strange turn. The great leader looked over his shoulder and realized that nobody was following. Instead of announcing the launch, he announced the punt. The plan to let Russia take control of the situation, and negotiate the surrender of the chemical weapons for ultimate demolition should be given a chance. Just when there was no alternative for the preservation of humanity to bombing the crap out of them, they will all go out for coffee and work it out.
The whole process has been a strange piece of management. John Kerry gave the first stern speech that more or less set up the inevitable announcement that bombs were flying. Then, not 24 hours later, Obama announces that "even though he has the authority to act alone" he is going to pay attention to the Constitution and take the issue to Congress. It was amazing to see Congress stand up on their hind legs and consider the war power that is their constitutional responsibility (which they have carefully avoided since Pearl Harbor). It was clear that they were not going to authorize action.
In an amazing display of how unaccustomed Congress is to actually taking responsibility, Speaker John Boehner called a press conference right at the height of the Syria frenzy. The media folks assumed he was going to make a statement about where the House Republicans were standing on the question before them, and maybe how he viewed their constitutional obligations concerning declarations of war. But, no, Boehner didn’t address Syria. He came out and announced that the House would be taking another meaningless vote to repeal Obamacare. Because the 40 or so votes they have already taken aren’t enough.
So after escalating the issue to the brink of imminent attack, then saying that maybe it could happen in a month or so, really whenever Congress gets around to it is soon enough, Obama was, as they say, hoist on his own petard. Putin came to his rescue. If we can hand it off to the U.N., and let the Russians deal with it well, nothing will happen, but we will appear to have done the right thing. I don’t know what the solution is, but I’d like to think it doesn’t involve us. Our track record of interventions in that part of the world is dismal, and lot of our problems might be solved if we quit trying to solve theirs for them. Nobody bought what Obama was selling Tuesday night. The Iraq experience was enough, thanks. Even he didn’t sound convinced. But it was a lovely speech.
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Actually, about halfway through his speech I realized that I was playing "Angry Birds" on my iPad instead of listening to him. That’s usually not the hallmark of a successful sales pitch.
Closer to home, this has been the strangest summer. In the depths of a terrible drought, with the river so dry the fish are sunburned, it won’t stop raining. I had a pretty good second crop of hay on the part of the farm I could still irrigate. It came in tall and thick. Then we cut it, and it has rained just enough every day to keep it too wet to bale. It hasn’t been enough rain to really matter otherwise, but you can’t bale wet hay. It’s been turned and raked so many times that it is beginning to braid into rope. There’s a fine line between turning it enough to keep it from going moldy and grinding it into mulch. A few more days of it, and it will turn to guacamole.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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