Thursday, October 8, 2015

Obama's Rhetorical Strategy

Intellectual life in America has seen better days. We all agree with that. The question is: has it seen worse days?

A vibrant and functioning intellectual life requires that all ideas be stated and engaged. Such is not happening in today’s America.

In a radicalized, politically correct world one set of ideas becomes to dogmatic truth while the other side is dismissed as unworthy of discussion. Often, those who take the other side are personally attacked and demeaned. If not, their ideas are dismissed as empty-headed nonsense.

Thus is the marketplace of ideas corrupted and public debate made into a shouting match where the strong side attempts to silence the weak side.

This has been happening for decades now. The radicalized educational and media establishments have taken it upon themselves to indoctrinate their charges, insisting that leftist beliefs be taken as unquestioned truth. Thus, the marketplace of ideas has succumbed to a monopoly control. Those who do not follow the party line are put out of business.

Unhappily enough, our current president practices this same radical intellectual politics. He himself does not denounce his critics as racists and sexist, homophobic Islamophobes. He leaves that dirty work to his satraps and camp followers.

No, our president does not engage with differing ideas. He dismisses them as non-ideas, mumbo jumbo, worthless and useless, unworthy of consideration.

During the debate over the Iran deal Obama and his supporters insisted that the only choice was between his deal and war. Alternative policies, of which there were many, were dismissed as though they did not exist. Perhaps it was simply too difficult for Obama to think through them.

Recently, Bret Stephens reports, Gen. David Petraeus was asked to propose some ideas for a new strategy for dealing with Syria:

David Petraeus testified last month to the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Regarding Syria, the former general and CIA director urged a credible threat to destroy Bashar Assad’s air force if it continues to bomb its own people. He also recommended “the establishment of enclaves in Syria protected by coalition air power, where a moderate Sunni force could be supported and where additional forces could be trained, internally displaced persons could find refuge, and the Syrian opposition could organize.”

When Barack Obama was asked his views of the Petraeus proposal he responded as he has to many other alternatives to his view. He dismissed them as unworthy of his consideration:

But Barack Obama does not agree. At his Friday press conference, the president described such views as “mumbo-jumbo,” “half-baked ideas,” “as-if” solutions, a willful effort to “downplay the challenges involved in the situation.” He says the critics have no answers to the questions of “what exactly would you do and how would you fund it and how would you sustain it.”

America’s greatest living general might as well have been testifying to his shower drain for all the difference his views are going to make in this administration.

It isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The current conditions of the Middle East ought, at the least, have taught Obama the virtue of humility. It ought to have pushed or nudged him to seek out some new ideas from a different group of advisers.

Alas, it has not. A president who is too arrogant to accept failure prefers to double down on it. Whether he is insisting that Vladimir Putin has gotten himself into a quagmire or that history is on his side, Obama refuses to deal with reality. The first symptom is his refusal to engage with dissidents in the marketplace of ideas.

If you cannot consider different policy proposals, because the only distinction you draw is between yours and theirs, you cannot conduct policy successfully. The Middle East being a case in point.

But, you will ask, what if Obama was right about Putin’s Syria quagmire? Stephens responds:

In the meantime, note what Vladimir Putin, lectured by Mr. Obama for getting Russia “stuck in a quagmire,” is achieving in Syria.

For a relatively trivial investment of some jet fighters and a brigade-sized support force, Moscow extends its influence in the eastern Mediterranean, deepens a commercially and strategically productive alliance with Iran, humiliates the U.S., boosts Mr. Putin’s popularity at home, and earns a geopolitical card he can play in any number of negotiations—Ukraine, gas contracts, Mr. Assad’s political future, you name it. If things don’t work out, he can pull up stakes within a week without much loss of money, lives or prestige. It’s a perfect play.

You cannot play in the major leagues if you are thinking in bush league terms. The game will simply pass you by, leaving you shaking your head on the sidelines.

When you ignore all alternatives to your own ideas, you are ignoring complex realities.

Stephens offers another example from the Obama playbook:

If Republicans want a tougher line in Syria, they’re warmongers. If Hillary Clinton thinks a no-fly zone is a good idea, she’s playing politics: “There is obviously a difference,” the president tut-tutted about his former secretary of state’s position, “between running for president and being president.”

Obama pretends that he is being forced to choose between doing nothing and re-invading the Middle East. He believes that withdrawal from the region was a major achievement. Stephens explains that Petraeus has offered an alternative, one that requires level of subtle thinking that seems to be beyond the president:

“It is frequently said that there is no ‘military solution’ to Syria,” Gen. Petraeus said in his testimony. “This may be true, but it is also misleading. For, in every case, if there is to be hope of a political settlement, a certain military and security context is required—and that context will not materialize on its own.” Is this, too, mumbo-jumbo?


Recruiting Animal said...

I think it's bad for intellectual life when educated people say that no one considers the other side even as they present a very one-sided view of things themselves.

However, it's not a sign of cultural decline. It's simply normal. That's what people are like.

When someone says that Obama is ignoring the greatest living general, what comes to mind for me is General Shinseki.

"Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary... calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, ''wildly off the mark.''... then dismissed articles in several newspapers this week asserting that Pentagon budget specialists put the cost of war and reconstruction at $60 billion to $95 billion in this fiscal year."

Anonymous said...

RA, I think you misread or didn't understand the blog post. Because Wolfowitz didn't listen to Shinseki, doesn't mean Obama is absolved of not listening either. Rumsfield lost his job because of Iraq; Patreus was key in changing course that turned out so successful, Obama tried to copy it in Afghanistan without similar success. Obama seems uncomfortable with military as a unit of force.

As we are diminished globally, the President (whoever it is) has less leverage. The power Obama had globally, his precedent will not have. For many, left or right, that could be a problem.

Sam L. said...

Obama is way to little for the office.

Ares Olympus said...

Not trying to put absolute doubt on David Petraeus's knowledge and skills, but as we say about Hillary, character is important.

At least it doesn't sound like Obama has completely abandoned his naughty ex-general, ex-CIA director. But maybe Obama now has changed his opinion of Petraeus for trying to influence complex events by public discourse? Probably Obama should have invited him to his team of military advisors, and then everyone could be on the same page publically.
The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors have recommended bringing felony charges against David H. Petraeus, contending that he provided classified information to a lover while he was director of the C.I.A., officials said, and leaving Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to decide whether to seek an indictment that could send the pre-eminent military officer of his generation to prison.

The Justice Department investigation stems from an affair Mr. Petraeus had with Paula Broadwell, an Army Reserve officer who was writing his biography, and focuses on whether he gave her access to his C.I.A. email account and other highly classified information.

F.B.I. agents discovered classified documents on her computer after Mr. Petraeus resigned from the C.I.A. in 2012 when the affair became public.

Mr. Petraeus, a retired four-star general who served as commander of American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has said he never provided classified information to Ms. Broadwell, and has indicated to the Justice Department that he has no interest in a plea deal that would spare him an embarrassing trial. A lawyer for Mr. Petraeus, Robert B. Barnett, said Friday he had no comment.
Since his resignation from the C.I.A. on Nov. 10, 2012, Mr. Petraeus has divided his time between teaching, making lucrative speeches and working as a partner in one of the world’s largest private-equity firms, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.

“We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done,” Mr. Obama said, referring to his career in government. “And my main hope right now is — is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”

But investigators concluded that, whether or not the disclosure harmed national security, it amounted to a significant security breach in the office of one of the nation’s most trusted intelligence leaders. They recommended that Mr. Petraeus face charges, saying lower-ranking officials had been prosecuted for far less.

Federal agents stumbled onto the affair after Jill Kelley, a friend of Mr. Petraeus’s, complained to the F.B.I. that she had received anonymous threatening emails about her relationship with Mr. Petraeus. F.B.I. agents opened a cyberstalking investigation, traced the message to Ms. Broadwell and began searching her emails. That is when they discovered evidence that she and Mr. Petraeus were having an affair.

Mr. Petraeus is said to have begun the affair with Ms. Broadwell in 2011, soon after taking the job at the C.I.A. and while she was interviewing him for her book, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.”

Mr. Petraeus resigned from the C.I.A. three days after Mr. Obama was re-elected. In a brief statement, Mr. Petraeus admitted to the affair, saying that “after being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment.”

“Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” Mr. Petraeus said, referring to the C.I.A. “This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”

Ares Olympus said...

The WSJ article is here, but limited access, while it can be opened from a google search of the title.

It might also be noted that Russia is protecting Assad by attacking his enemies, while Petraeus is recommending we bomb Assad's forces, giving his diverse rivals, those we might support, but mostly those we don't want to support, anyway, it does look like a predicament if we have the U.S. and Russia both bombing opposite sides and further destabiliting the region, although I'm sure it'll make weapon manufacturer's profits grow.

So I'm glad if John "bomb bomb bomb Iran" McCain inviting Petraeus to the committee hearing got some discussion going, but unless we find some cooperation on our imagined "end-game" in Syria with Russia through the UN, I'm on Obama's side - resist the warmongers as half-baked.

There simply no political downside for Obama in taking the slow road to World War III.

Ares Olympus said...

Anyone interested in view on the left?

What's interesting is basically the claim that Obama has continued to follow the identical Neocon regime change plan, minus actual messy ground troups. So Petraeus and McCain are against Obama's militancy saying he's not been militant enough. While the left is saying the situation only exists because Obama got it into his head that he could get rid of Assad via rebel groups which are even worse than Assad.

So from that point of view Obama is responsible for this pickle, but the proper course of action is to admit the mistake and work WITH Russia to stabilize Syria and help Assad retake the rest of his country.

But since changing sides is so messy, the best we can apparently do is let Russia clean up our mess and say thank you, privately or publicly, as pride allows.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Olympia: There is something wrong with you. What are you trying to say? Point after point, you bewilder me for relevance. Your own, and your points. What do you want me to do with what you say? It's lost on me. Perhaps others. -$$$

Ares Olympus said...

Sorry Miss $$$. I thought I just sharing relavant information to Petraeus and the complicated situation of Syria which his testimony was regarding, but I apologize if its not helpful to you.

What can we citizens do afterall? We can vote for neocon left or neocon right, because that's what little minds with big appetites are made of.

Fiction is friendlier, and TV is best. In television, you get clear good guys and bad guys and everything tied up in 60 minutes, or 44 minutes replayed on NetFlix.