Friday, September 13, 2013

The new U.S. foreign policy: walk slow, act dumb, and look stupid

In the 1967 classic war movie The Dirty Dozen, there is a great scene wherein Donald Sutherland's character Vernon Pinkley--something of an idiot--is asked by Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) to pretend he's a general and inspect some troops. Sutherland reluctantly agrees, but isn't sure what to do. Reisman lays it out for him in the most basic terms:
You've seen a general inspecting troops before haven't you? Just walk slow, act dumb and look stupid!
Judging by what has been happening the last several days, it would appear the Obama Administration has decided to adopt Reisman's sage advice as well, with regard to its dealings with Syria, Russia, and the rest of the world.

Vladimir Putin's op-ed in the New York Times garnered a lot of attention from various U.S. officials and politicians. Most, from both sides of the aisle, were at pains to criticize Putin, taking offense at the Russian leader's apparent hypocrisy in talking about things like equality given Russia's track record on human rights. Others pointed out how Putin criticized the U.S. for acting unilaterally when Russia has done the same, like in Georgia in 2008. Here's an extended "fact check" of Putin's piece that addresses most of these things.

But the problem is, Putin's piece still resonates with many people, particularly those opposed to any U.S. action with regard to Syria. These people can be found in the United States in some number, but they're a lot more them in the rest of the world and make no mistake, they're watching this all very closely.

With the table now set for Russian-Syrian negotiations as a means of "solving" the problem of Syria's chemical weapons, Assad has stepped forward back into the light and is asserting himself as the legitimate leader of Syria, exactly as Putin and Assad had hope would be the case. Indeed, Assad is even making demands of the United States as a part of this process. U.S. leaders are blustering, huffing, and puffing about it, but the Administration's actions (and lack of action) has placed the United States firmly in the back seat.

Pseudo-analysts like the always contrarian Andrew Sullivan are imagining new realities, wherein Obama has somehow gotten the best of Putin in all of this by removing himself and the United States from the Syrian equation. Sullivan even imagines that in this contest of wills, Obama is playing the role of a Machiavellian prince, using guile and the appearance of simplicity to get the result he wanted all along. It's an incredibly stupid argument on Sullivan's part. It's forced, unrelated to reality, and based on a total lack of understanding of Machiavelli. But that's neither here nor there. The point is, it's obvious to all that Putin is in control, that Obama is not, so the only way to "save" Obama is to engage in some seriously crazy spin.

For what does the future hold now for U.S. foreign policy? Our President's lack of decisiveness on the matter suggests a lack of understanding of both costs and consequences to various courses of action. His failure to lay out a coherent response to both Congress and the American people with regard to the above provided Putin the opportunity to push Obama--and by extension the United States--out of the way and basically assume control. And that leaves the President standing there, look like an idiot and twiddling his thumbs.

Walk slow. Act dumb. Look stupid.

And for those interested, here's the classic scene from The Dirty Dozen I mentioned at the beginning of this piece:


Which one of you guys wants to be a President?

Cheers, all.