We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the impending war with Syria has been at least postponed. It is clear that it was the massive and rising antiwar sentiment that put a check on the Obama administration and its war-loving supporters to back off (at least temporarily) from their threats to bomb Syria and instead accept the offer of Russia to find a diplomatic solution. The Obama administration’s Syria policy was incoherent and based on hypocritical fear-mongering and his speech last night reflected all those things.
But David Sirota says that you will never find Obama’s supporters conceding that it was the public’s anger that forced them to change their minds. Instead they promote the image of their Dear Leader as an all-wise and all-knowing multi-dimensional chess player who foresaw all these things and got what he had wanted all along.
You’ve heard this one before — it’s the one from partisans that pretends every good idea their preferred politician opposed but is then forced to embrace was always that politician’s idea all along. As the Atlantic’s James Fallows put it, it portrays Obama as “a chess master who always sees several moves ahead of his opponents.” In that chess game, seemingly stupid moves are actually brilliant calculations designed to create a chain reaction. We are thus asked by these partisans to believe that every dumb, corrupt or misguided position their preferred politician takes is really just a secretly brilliant plot to achieve that politician’s real goal of driving the policy debate to a better place.
In this most absurd version of the Multidimensional Chess story, the president proposed a war with Syria not because he wanted a war with Syria, but because he always wanted to prevent a war with Syria. More specifically, his administration cited World War II and made a full-court press in Congress for war not to actually start a war, but merely to prompt Russia to intervene to prevent a war. You see, it was an antiwar play all along!
In terms of basic accuracy, for all that we will likely hear about the Obama administration supposedly always trying to avoid war with Syria, the verifiable evidence says exactly the opposite. In speeches, TV interviews and lobbying meetings with congressional lawmakers, the administration has been pushing for war with no caveats. Only when congressional and public opposition to that war began to look insurmountable did the administration suddenly change its tune and start seeking out a path that avoids a military confrontation. In other words, some modicum of a democratic process actually worked to prioritize what the public — rather than D.C. foreign policy elites — actually wanted.
But Sirota says that the elites will never give the credit to the people for changing the policy.
That’s frightening to elites in Washington who, for all the high-minded rhetoric, actually cannot stand democracy and the attendant limits on their unilateral power. It is also grotesque to hardcore partisans who see things in “with us or against us” terms, public will be damned.
Neither group wants to allow ordinary Americans or their congressional representatives to actually believe they have any decision-making power over stuff as Serious and Important as war and peace. Such notions are too subversively empowering to those who might curtail their power and embarrass their preferred politician. So the Multidimensional Chess argument selectively appropriates credit for turns of events in order to make sure the masses — in this case, the antiwar masses — never get to feel so empowered in the first place.
The people must be made to feel helpless so that they can be controlled more easily. It would never do to give them the sense that they actually have a say on major issues of war and peace and can actually change things.