The anti-war movement rises to the occasion

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.


  1. wtfwhateverd00d says

    It shows how far Obama has fallen that even David Sirota and Salon are critiquing him. David Sirota and Salon have long been the leaders in the you’re either for Obama or a racist movement.

  2. machintelligence says

    Always take credit, even if you don’t deserve it, because there are going to be times you have to shoulder the blame, even though it is not your fault.
    That being said, I am still glad he went to the congress with this mess. It sets a good precedent.
    And does anyone truly believe that Assad was so eager to give up his chemical weapons that he would have done so without threat of violence? Sometimes rattling sabers actually works.

  3. Glenn says

    Obama, because he is a constitutional scholar and a humanist, only threatens drone attacks so that the attacks don’t actually occur.

    Except that his plan didn’t work and he was forced to kill Americans.

    Shame on those who made him murder.

  4. dukeofomnium says

    It’s a win-win situation. Obama gets to pretend that he made the Syrians back down. The Syrians get to pretend they didn’t back down. The Russians get to pretend that they’re still internationally relevant. Congress doesn’t get to pretend anything, but who cares?

  5. Jeffrey Johnson says

    It is clear that it was the massive and rising antiwar sentiment that put a check on the Obama administrations 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.

    Let’s just check the plausibility of this assertion. According to this, it matters not at all that Putin and Assad offered to accept a diplomatic proposal to eliminate the chemical weapons. This is completely irrelevent. The real reason the Congressional vote is on hold is because of the anti-war sentiments of people who mistakenly thought the plan (or depending on how you see it, knew the real conspiratorial truth) was to do much more than a limited strike aimed at chemical warfare, but to eventually mount a full-scale war, for oil or something, or to end up with another Iraq style-insurgency, because that was so much fun.

    Also, according to this if there hadn’t been such anti-war sentiment, Obama and his war-loving supporters would have ignored the offers by Putin and Assad because they love war so much. Without the heroic anti-war movement, nothing could have stopped the blood thirsty Obama from going to war, because his original intentions had nothing to do with what Putin and Assad are offering, but really just focused on fulfilling the lust for war.

    Right. Sounds so plausible.

  6. Jeffrey Johnson says

    I forgot something. We also have to believe that Putin and Assad would have offered this anytime, all we had to do was ask. It had nothing to do with the threat to launch a retaliatory attack against Assad’s use of chemical weapons that motivated them.

    They were probably motivated because they were so positively impressed by the anti-war movement. That and because Putin thinks Ed Snowden is such a nice guy (and he seems to be). So Putin thought he would offer to lever Assad into giving up the chemicals because he is so impressed by Snowden. Even so, Obama would never allow Putin’s offer to block his warlike ambitions if it hadn’t been for the anti-war movement.

  7. dickspringer says

    Right on.

    My question is: Is the protocol against poison gas merely a thing to make peacniks feel virtuous, or is it a treaty that must be enforced? For too many commentators here it seems to be the former. There is an old cliche in law: “There is no right without a remedy.” If we deplore what Assad does and otherwise wipe our hands of it, are we really occupying the moral high ground? If the UN acts because of the Russian initiative that would certainly be the best outcome, But are people here really arguing that we should do nothing if the UN does not act. I fear for the precedent that will have been set when someone uses a nuclear weapon. Give the question the very serious thought it deserves.

    The “anti-war movement did no “rise” to the occasion. Its knee-jerk response totally evades th real issue..

  8. eigenperson says

    If it weren’t for the anti-war sentiment, Obama would never have agreed to consult Congress, the offers from Putin and Assad would never have been made in the first place, and we would currently be bombing Syria and confirming yet again to the entire world that America is an irrational, dangerous, and thuggish nation.

  9. Jeffrey Johnson says

    Yes, might not have asked for a Congressional vote, this is true, and a good thing. But how do you get from Congress to Putin and Assad? I don’t see how the offers depend on that.

    The diplomatic process depended on discussions between Obama and Putin at the G20, and on the threat of attack. If anything the anti-war movement and Congress’ possible no vote reduced the credibility of the threat of attack, which reduced the chance of a deal with Putin and Assad.

    As it is the deal isn’t done yet. Where we are now is exactly where we were with Iraq in Oct. 2002, with hope for a diplomatic solution. Only now the threat is not regime change but an aerial attack on certain Syrian military installations. The different outcomes will depend on differences between Syria and Iraq, between Assad and Hussein, and between Obama and Bush.

    For the record, I’m anti-war too. Who isn’t? But I wasn’t opposed to the strikes Obama proposed. Which is not at all the same as being a war lover. Without those strikes, the Syrian war would have been just as brutal and real, so opposing them wasn’t stopping any war. In Iraq, on the other hand, no war was in progress.

    The difference between supporting and not supporting the proposed strikes wasn’t between being opposed to war or being a war lover. It was between whether you thought the strikes might have a positive impact on the behavior of Assad regarding his chemical arsenal. The war was already there for over two years, and would continue on with or without those strikes.

  10. Dunc says

    Well, if it’s a treaty that must be enforced, then perhaps the USA could go first? You know, by actually getting rid of that massive stockpile of chemical weapons they’ve been promising to get rid of since 1997?

  11. sailor1031 says

    How I underestimated Obama’s brilliance. What a plan; to look like an idiot so people think you’re an idiot and then act like a smart-guy so people don’t have any clue as to whether you’re just an idiot who got lucky or an idiot. Brilliant! fucking brilliant!

  12. Jeffrey Johnson says

    It’s an interesting theory. How would you test it though?

    Here’s another untestable theory: some people are so full of bitter anger with such a great need need to direct it at something or someone, but the world of reality, as awful as it is, just isn’t quite up to task of providing a narrative framework worthy of being a target for such exquisite hatred, so they invent exaggerated variations on reality with embellishments in order to amplify the blameworthiness of events and individuals so that it presents a profile that can truly measure up to the full intensity of scorn they wish a priori to heap upon it.

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