Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The President's metaphorical confusion

If you're going to use a metaphor, you damn well ought to be sure you know what it means, especially if you happen to be a political leader of some sort like, say, the President of the United States.

Back in July of 2011, in the middle of the Debt Ceiling Showdown in Washington, D.C, Obama had a meeting with some of the Republican leaders in Congress. In that meeting, Obama apparently got a little peeved and ended up issuing a pseudo-threat to Eric Cantor, saying to the House Majority Leader:
Eric, don't call my bluff. I'm going to the American people on this.
The problem with this, with telling someone not to call your bluff, is that you're admitting you have no hand! You're admitting that you're bluffing. I have to say, I'd love to play poker with the Supreme Leader, because if he's going to make it a point to announce to the table every time he bluffs, he's not going to win many hands.

But perhaps we can be a little forgiving, with regard to the President's metaphor fail in this instance. He was no doubt tired and certainly a little cranky. So he screwed up a metaphor, it didn't really do any damage. No one was hurt. Hey, it's not like he gave away military plans, secrets, or long-term objectives, right? And no one is going to screw up a metaphor so badly that it would do the above kind of damage, let alone end up putting American lives in jeopardy, right?

Yeah. Apparently, someone is. And that someone is President Obama.

Speaking about the situation in Syria today, Obama said the following in an interview with Gwen "Party like it's 1773" Ifill and Judy Woodruff (my boldface):
And if, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about – but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term...and may have a positive impact in the sense that chemical weapons are not used again on innocent civilians.
Hello? I'm pretty sure, Mr. President, that you already drew a line in the sand for Syria. Do you remember that?

And now that Syria has crossed that line--by using chemical weapons on its own people (a point Obama accepts)--what is the President's response? "A shot across the bow." For those unfamiliar with this metaphor, it's a navy thing, as in "fire a shot across her bow, mister." That's the kind of order a captain might give when there is another ship approaching but failing to signal it's intentions. It means "hey, stop or the next shot is not going to miss."

But the President is suggesting his Syrian "shot across the bow" will be a one-off thing, he's clearly indicating there will be no protracted conflict. Even worse, his own comment from August of last year--about Syria and our "red line," quoted in the above piece--was itself "a shot across the bow"! So, what Obama seems to be suggesting is that he may order some kind of limited strike on Syria as a warning--"stop it, or else"--even though he has no intention of following up on that "or else."

He talks a lot about his "changing calculus." What about the calculus of Assad and other Syrian leaders? Pretty fucking obvious (pardon my language): "if we promise to never use chemical weapons again and destroy the ones we have, they'll leave us alone for a while. But we don't really have to destroy all of the weapons and if we feel the need to use them again--six months or a year from now--we can do so with impunity, as all we'll get is some more threats and maybe another 'shot across our bow.' Yippee."

Moreover, Obama is going down the same road as Clinton--which I described in my previous piece in anticipation of something like this from the President--with his finger-waving threats and half-measures. He may look tough in the moment to some, but he's setting up a serious problem for the future, a problem someone else will of course have to deal with, since he'll be out of office and busy making millions on the post-presidency speaking engagement circuit.

It's enough to make a grown man cry. Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. "Just wait 'till your father gets home. Boy, are you gonna get it!"