Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Previewing Obama's Speech...And a Housekeeping Notice!

Barack Obama's move to refer the decision for a military strike against Syria was an extraordinary one, and gave the impression that this president, at least, didn't want the burden of what he considered necessary but unpleasant action to be placed on him alone.  Was it an abdication of leadership?  His opponents would argue so, but as we look back at the last half century or so of American foreign policy there have been times when such an abdication might have spared the US some truly disastrous interventions.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's speech to his country tonight may presage some further backing off from military strikes in the light of the recent Russian diplomacy and Syrian government response about its chemical weapons.

Ronald Reagan's former speech-writer, Peggy Noonan, has a forthright and - of course - elegantly expressed view about Obama's dilemma in her Wall Street Journal blog.  She holds no candle for a president she clearly despises, describing him as "a self-besotted charismatic who can’t tell the difference between showbiz and strategy, and who enjoys unburdening himself of moral insights to his peers" (ouch!).  She also has a nice turn of phrase about his speaking tonight to advocate a position that he is himself gradually abandoning.  "It will be a president appealing for public support for an action he intends not to take", she writes.

Noonan has some perceptive insights into the sort of speech Obama might make, and the spin that he could employ, as befits an author who was one of the finest speech-writers of her time.  But in her antagonism towards Obama, she quite fails to pay attention to the one legacy that is haunting his every action, and making even the thought of military action so lethal in America and across the world.  And that is the legacy of one George W Bush.  The legacy of a Republican predecessor whose own military adventures have made any such considerations so toxic now.

If Obama's room for manouevre has significantly lessened from that of his predecessors, its restriction owes much to the actions of those very predecessors.  In finding an alternative way forward, however, he may finally be earning the Nobel Peace Prize given to him at the outset of his presidency, whilst having maintained pressure on both Syria and Russia.  Who, after all, can doubt that the recent diplomatic flurry oculd only have come about because of the American threat of action.  Obama could be playing a bad hand very ably.  Only time will tell, but Ms. Noonan's stiletto should probably not be quite so gleefully applied.

A brief housekeeping note.  I'm aware this is the first post since June, and while teachers take long holidays that gap really is rather excessive.  But as the new term gets into its stride, blogging should become more regular here, and there is shortly going to be a bit of a change to the nature of the blog itself.  More soon!


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