I’m retired, so I have more discretionary time to waste than working people do. For that reason, it seems like I have a responsibility to report back on stuff I see on television that other people don’t see as often. In the last few weeks, the cable news and bullshit channels have been pumping out volumes of opinion from talking heads, left and right, about how Obama has fucked up his handling of the Syria insanity. He’s been called weak by the right, and a war-lover by the “morally pure” peaceniks on the left. A few minutes after he gave his speech to the nation last Tuesday, CNN’s Piers Morgan was heard to say one of the most profoundly stupid things I’ve heard in a long time. “What if Putin is acting out of his own self interest?”, he asked some “expert” or other. Well, duh? In the realm of international diplomacy, the first unshakeable premise is that everyone involved is acting out of their own self interest—trying to calm political waters back home, trying to appease assholes in foreign governments, struggling to keep allies with differing views and interests from withholding their support.
The discussion of this thorny situation was so dumb, it seemed to me that the role Obama was in was rather like a guy engaged in making love to his wife while simultaneously trying to explain what he was doing to his six-year-old son. “Why are you hurting mommy?”, the kid asks as the bedposts rattle against the wall. And then daddy, bound up in the act, tries to consummate what he’s engaged in while explaining some very basic facts of life to the wide-eyed child—an act that is made exponentially more difficult because the kid is… how shall I say… dim-witted.
And the dimwittedness that came from the left was damn near as dopey as the usual right-wing stupidity. In fact, on TV and on the internet, in print and in images, the “progressives” began to sound much like their polar opposites, finding in Obama depths of perfidy and dishonesty and bloodthirsty incompetence of the kind often heard from right-wing assholes. Not to be outdone by the left in the stupidity sweepstakes, Rush Limbaugh started talking about Obama’s efforts at a diplomatic end run around the necessity of air strikes as a “shuck and jive” campaign. The hideous Ann Coulter, trading insights with the dependably thick Sean Hannity, used the word “monkey” to describe Obama at least six times in a three-minute segment. She and Limbaugh both knew, of course, that they were seeding the fertile fields of racism when they chose those words.
In serving up his predictably inflammatory schtick, Limbaugh performed one of his patented plump pirouettes, demonstrating his cleverness by contrasting Bush’s obscene “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad with what Rush sees as Obama’s “shuck and jive” failure to exert bold and bloody action in Syria. Better in Blabbermouth-BlubberBoy- Land to rush into things—heedless of consequences, indifferent to truth, and unconcerned about the people who will die—than to act like some shuckin’ and jivin’ street corner Negro who’d rather try to talk his way out of a fight than be a “decider,” like his fearless true-blue American white boy predecessor. Obama, enslaved to his ethnic heritage, is just reenacting a scene from an ol’ Stepin Fetchit movie, turning the commander-in-chief into a racist stereotype grown frightened, saying “feets, don’t fail me now” as he makes the Unites States look chicken. That was what Limbaugh was basically saying, and for guys who think like six-year old boys, that’s about as sophisticated as their foreign-policy-thinking ever gets. Rush—and anyone who hangs on his every radio word—tends to inhabit that same zone of arrested development.
It’s no wonder governments have to conduct so much vital business in secret. The people they govern are just too fucking dumb to know that negotiating calls for concessions, even with monsters—and that if you want to avoid war, you often have to play games of give-and-take, or not show all the cards you’re playing, even to railbirds kibitizing about how badly you’re playing the game. But it appears that the game Barack Obama has been forced to play is far too subtle for guys like Piers Morgan or women like Ann Coulter to understand. Kinda like that kid at the side of the bed, not quite able to fathom the fact that mommy has an interest in what daddy is doing.
Syria is less than half the size of California. More than 20 million people live there, even after several million have fled the country, and a hundred thousand or so others have been killed. They are bitterly divided by religion, and they are ruled by a canny despot whom almost everyone knows is a bad guy. He has the support of Russia, in part because he’s a chess piece in the ongoing strained game between Putin and Obama. Putin also must worry that a country so near his own, with lots of potentially dangerous Muslim fundamentalists, might fall into the hands of people who are, for him, far more scary than a pawn like Assad.
So, short of blundering-in as George W. Bush did in Iraq, mindless of consequences, our current president has done that very rare thing: he’s deliberated, he’s negotiated, he’s made phone calls, he’s placated egos, all in an attempt to avoid blowing the shit out of more people in yet another display of reckless American belligerence.
Meanwhile, back home, on TV and on Facebook, the left and the right merge to carp at him, all of them exuding smugness in the sureness that they would have handled it all much more adroitly, humanely, or courageously.
And meanwhile, the little kid leaves the bedside and goes out to the sandbox to explain the complexity of sex to his little friends.