Hello, good morning, welcome, it's time once again for another one of these quickly-typed liveblog thingies of these terrible Sunday Morning political blather shows. My name is Jason, and today, the Syria discussion wends on, with an even stranger tone, because now it looks like we may not, after all, end up setting a huge pile of money on fire and launching a bunch of airstrikes strategically designed to make us feel like we'd done a thing, in Syria.
The way this conversation has aged over the last few weeks has been pretty remarkable. Going into Labor Day, it seemed our policy-makers and thought-leaders were suffering from some sort of retrograde adolescence. We had that weird, sweaty, teenage belief that if we just dropped a bunch of ordinance on Syria, it would demonstrate a "something" of sufficient "somethingness," that Assad would "hesitate before using chemical weapons again."
Seemed a weird set of actions to take, to merely curtail the means by which 1.3% of 110,000 people had died -- especially considering that a huge air campaign would probably kill more people than the original sarin gas attack! But that's where our pubescent brains were a few short weeks ago.
And now? Holy crap, suddenly those teens are all grown up and experiencing a massive midlife crisis, because if solution comes as a result of losing a dick-measuring contest to Vladimir Putin, is it a solution at all? That's literally where a substantial part of the geo-political discussion is right now.
Naturally, this was all partially born out of the one really adult decision that was made (the decision to kick this to Congress for a debate and vote, as our Constitution mandates), and then a lot of muddling about (John Kerry doing a bunch of thinking out loud), and those are two odd parents for a potential solution to have, even before Baby Maybe No Quagmire This Time gets Russian reporter-murderer and op-ed troll Vlad Putin volunteering to be the godfather. Nevertheless, if we are focused on outcomes, we no longer seem to be one-minute-to-midnight on allowing ourselves to get sucked in, militarily to the crisis.
Of course, one obstacle that we need to overcome is that we need to get people past what James Fearon refers to as "the Nobody's Fool Problem":
Flash forward to now, and a major part of the Serious Commentary by the President, the Secretary of State, members of Congress, and members of the commentariat is all about Whether we can trust the Russians and Assad, Whether it’s technically feasible to disassemble and dispose of Syria’s stockpiles, Whether Russia and Assad are “stalling” or “playing Obama for time”, and Whether any deal will be sufficiently “verifiable.”
What? Those questions might make sense if the original aim had been to actually disarm Assad of chemical weapons, but that’s definitely not what the administration or, I think, practically anyone was imagining. The concern was about his and others use of the weapons. So on that score the question should not be whether you can implement and verify disarmament in a civil war zone—which doesn’t sound likely, or not in the short run anyway – but rather whether you can verify that he hasn’t undertaken more attacks with chemical weapons. For some scale of attack, that’s obviously feasible, as the events of August 21 show. (I was trying to make this point, mixed in with some others, here and am trying again after reading the reactions to the president’s speech and the Russian initiative.)
So what’s with this worry about Russia and Assad tricking Obama by “stalling” and “playing for time”? Stalling for what purpose? So he can keep carrying out massive chemical weapons attacks while the Security Council negotiates? If his regime is saying “we’ll disarm, accept monitors, and sign the CWC,” does it seem likely that he would then continue to carry out massive gas attacks traceable to his military? If he did this, Obama would be in a better position than ever to get support for punitive strikes. Basically, this reflex “I’m nobody’s fool” reaction misses the point that the Russian proposal and Assad’s apparent acceptance of the approach is already a probable win on the question of continued use of poison gas by the Assad regime.
It's also important to remember that while Assad is really good at killing people, and nobody is pro-Assad-continuing-to-kill-people, no one ever, ever intended our airstrike as a serious solution to Assad's willingness and ability to kill his own people. It's been very pointedly stated that we have no desire to turn the tide of Syrian conflict. The best we've ever offered is to try to get Assad to think twice about using -- not stop using! -- think twice about using chemical weapons.
And so we have a strange possibility here -- Russia and Syria may team up on "pretending to comply with a plan to dispose of chemical weapons" that looks on the surface like they are just sticking it to America and having a good laugh. But if no chemical weapons end up getting used, because using them would shatter all of this pretending, then we get our international norm enforced without a shot being fired. All of which is a good outcome for America.
(Like I said, like in Syria is going to continue to suck, but we never had a solution for that anyway.)
So, we seem to be on the cusp of one of rare Hari Seldon-style solutions, and from my perspective, this is very good to see. From the Sunday Morning Media perspective, this is all way way way way over their heads and beyond their ability to comprehend.
I'd love to just freeze time right here, because right here is where my day is going to peak. From here, I plunge on a three-hour spelunking into the dumbhole. Ah well, I do it so you all don't have to. So sit back and live your lives. As usual, you can chat it out in the comments, drop me a line if you need, follow me on Twitter if you want to watch me despair about the NFL later today, and check out my Rebel Mouse page for some of the fun reads from this week.
Also, this is technically the five year anniversary of the financial crisis, so I've assembled a list of the best books and films produced that are about, or inspired by, the financial crisis. Please consider checking that out as well.
THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
We start today with THIS WEEK because George Stephanopoulos has actually shown up for work today! Mainly because they got an exclusive interview with the President. Then, there will be the Flowerpounce Roundtable with a bunch of people that ABC News booked to make cakehole noises about news. Come on, guys this will be fun.
GSteph has selected his most serious camera angle to start us off with today, to talk about how the situation in Syria looks, at the moment, to be a thing that brings "a measure of victory for something that brought a mountain of criticism." I feel bad for anyone who has to look at that mountain and treat it as if it were substantial, but that's American politics for you.
ABC is sort of doing this in "previously, on our interview with Obama" style, it seems, so don't expect much in the way of narrative flow here. Obama says that we're in a better position now then we were when we were poised to do a bunch of airstrikes. “My entire goal throughout this exercise is to make sure what happened on Aug. 21 does not happen again,” he says.
This seems obvious on its face, considering those airstrikes would have drawn us into a conflict, put Americans at risk, enlarged the debt, and not really solve anything, but GSTeph asks, "Why" all the same. Obama goes on to state that the goal was to prevent a second poison gas attack, and now we have the possibility of doing that. (Getting the Syrians and the Russians to even admit, yeah, we had chemical weapons, was something of a stunning development.)
Obama goes on, "The underlying civil conflict in Syria is terrible...but...the United States can't get involved in someone else's civil war." He goes on to say that what can be done is that the weapons that kill indiscriminately -- that is, make no exception for non-combatants -- can be curbed.
Of course, Stephanopoulos points out that Obama has said that Assad should go, but that remains an outcome of a hoped for set of political negotiations, not a bombing campaign
Stephanopoulos calls Putin the "unlikely partner" in all of this. And he still believes that the rebels used the chemical weapons. So, how does this whole verification-through-Vladimir work? I think James Fearon will probably have the superior explanation.
Obama says, well, no one takes the whole rebels-gassed-themselves theory seriously. (Stephanopoulos, because he is a weird guy who is overattracted to shiny lights and loud noises, says, "But it was in the New York Times?" He is referring to PUTIN'S OP-ED, and yes...*facepalm*, as they say.)
"But what is true," Obama says, "is that their are radical factions inside the rebellion." That includes al Qaeda types, who we would prefer not obtain these weapons. Obama says that he and Putin have been in discussions about removing the threat of chemical weapons for over a year. In all likelihood, he is overrating and overstating the quality of those discussions.
"I think there is a way for Mr. Putin, despite me and him having a whole lot of differences, to play an important role in that. I welcome him being involved, Obama says. He goes on to suggest that this might be a first step toward Iran "recognizing that what's happening [in Syria] is a train wreck" that hurts everyone in the region.
Stephanopoulos asks the "aren't you worried that Putin is playing for time?" question that Fearon addresses above. If the strategy that Fearon lays out is what Obama has in mind, he can't bloody well spell it out for Stephanopoulos on live teevee. So, we get a pretty generic clutch of bromides in response: the U.S. and Russia have disagreements, but we work together on a range of issues, we probably couldn't keep doing the War in Afghanistan without them (which is really where Russia could do us a solid if they wanted to...stopping us from continuing in that war).
"The fact of the matter is, if Russia wants to have some influence in Syria, post-Assad, that doesn't hurt our interests, Obama says, adding "I know that sometimes this gets framed or looked at through the lens of the US versus Russia. that's not what this is about." Rather, he says, its about the narrow matter of whether Assad will be allowed to use these chemical weapons, and if they can be kept out of the hands of murderous-minded "rebels."
Stephanopoulos asks, "If one year from now, he's in the process of surrendering his chemical weapons but he's strengthened his hold on power, is that a victory?" It's the only victory we are in the position to win, so I'd say yes. Obama reiterates that his chief interest is about chemical weapons. He goes on to say that he doesn't think that Assad is on the road to increased or enhanced legitimacy after all he's done to his own people.
So, what about Iran? Will they see us as potentially not meaning it when we say that military options are on the table? Obama says: "I think what we understand is the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue. The threat against Israel, that nuclear Iran poses is much closer to our core interests. That a nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilizing. My position is that they should not draw a lesson that we haven't struck to think that we won't strike Iran. On the other hand, what they should draw is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically."
GSteph asks about all the criticism he's received about all of this, and Obama basically says something that may be the truest thing he has said since becoming President.
"Folks in Washington like to grade on style. And, so, had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear, they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy."
That is 100% true. Impressing the Beltway coprophages never requires you to be right. It only requires you to strongly state your incorrectness. So, if you're John Kerry, you remember that most of the people who believe your Syrian statecraft to be sloppy are the same bunch of nimrods who thought the War In Iraq was a brilliant idea.
We move on to the economy. Stephanopoulos asks Obama what he says to Americans who think they are still very economically insecure, while the malefactors of 2008 have all been made whole. Well, what Obama says to them is basically his 2012 stump speech. We were on the brink of a great depression but we came in and stabilized the situation and we have 42 months of growth and jobs and the automotive industry is alive and the housing market has recovery but we aren't there yet and the middle class hasn't had much wage growth but we are trying to push against all of this stuff that totally started before I got here and did you notice I kind of repealed the Bush tax cuts but not as far as I could have gotten and hey too big to fail is overbettersaythispartfastLOLLOL.
But, as Stephanopoulos points out that income inequality persists, and maybe the President can't stop it. Obama says, well, there is still a debate in Washington about how to "respond to these underlying trends." I mean, kind of! Like, I would "debate" that the one way you don't want to respond to these underlying trends is, say...elevate one of the architects of the financial crisis, Larry Summers, to the Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve! But yes, yes, of course, the House Republicans have pushed their weird Randianism to the point where negotiations aren't possible.
Speaking of, is Obama done negotiating? Obama says of course not, but the budgetary ball is in Congress' side of the court. He'd love to talk to Boehner about what to do about the sequester and the budget and all sorts of things. Except for the debt ceiling.
Stephanopoulos objects, saying, "But Presidents have done it in the past and you have done it in the past." Actually, only Obama has done so, George, look it up. But that's still a huge part of the problem -- Obama suggesting that the debt ceiling be an occasion for him to talk budget deal (with a bunch of water moccasins) was the thing that opened Pandora's Default Holocaust Box.
Obama insists that what's never happened in the past is that you hold the nation's credit hostage to get laws repealed, or get 100% of what you want without compromising. This is the door that Obama put ajar, though!
But, whatever, what's done is done. "How does this end?" Stephanopoulos asks. Essentially, Obama will stuff the beasties back inside the Pandora's box as best he can, by refusing to negotiate on the debt ceiling now. (I still think he should Mint The Magical Platinum Coin, but then, I like fun adventures.)
Obama then monologues a long reminder of 2012's stump speeches.
How will Obama save this "lost year?" Obama says that stuff like comprehensive immigration reform is sitting in the House, ready to be brought to the floor, where it would pass. This is true of a good many things. Obama basically sets up Boehner's hewing to the Hastert Rule as the reason the "year" has been "lost." He goes on to add that there is a faction of lawmakers that have managed to own procedural chokepoints, and they zealously keep the choke on in order to prevent anything that Obama might like to see pass, from passing.
This is a sort of quasi-cultish thing. In fact, I was forced to consider that I might have to admonish the First Lady for a dangerous comment she made earlier this month. I mean, look at this:
"Just drink up," Mrs. Obama urged on Thursday on a visit to the aptly named Watertown, Wisconsin. "Water is the first and best energy drink."
We're lucky that neither this story, nor Michelle Obama's reckless comment, did not make more news. No matter what you think of the GOP's bath salts caucus and the people who vote for them, it is WRONG to do something that will lead them to adopt dehydration and suicide as a political lifestyle choice.
I've cautioned the Obamas against doing things like come out in favor of toothpaste, because of the enormous strain it would put on the dentistry industry if hundreds of thousands of idiots stopped using it to prove a point about their ideological tribal purity. FLOTUS could have really caused a huge crush on the health care system, talking like that.
Will Obama choose between Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, and reveal who he loves the most in 2016? No. No he will not.
Okay it's blather time, with Matt Dowd and Cokie Roberts and Paul Gigot and Representatives Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Donna Edwards (D-Mary.).
Dowd agrees that we're in a better position on Syria then we were two weeks ago, and that the process has been fascinating to watch because the traditional system of allies and axis, in the Beltway context, has been scrambled. Roberts says that the Cuban Missile Crisis was contemporaneously observed as a similar "stumble to success."
Stephanopoulos notes that Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are against what's developing, because they don't get to watch YEE-HAW CRUISE MISSILES and then later fall into a cuddle-puddle and eat Dove bars. Amash sort of LOLs and says, "well, increasingly these views are becoming fringe viewpoints in the GOP," which is a pretty sick burn on Captain Gets Booked On Sunday Shows All The Time.
Edwards offers what is becoming the standard "how the Democrats against the war differentiate themselves from the Republicans who are against the war" talking point: that none of this deal-making would be possible without force being on the table. To her mind, those options all remain open. Gigot offers the standard WSJ editorial board chicken-hawk blargle.
What if Assad manages to hold on to power, is that a win for Assad and a loss for the United States. Amash suggests that the two are different ideas, not tied to one another. "I wouldn't call it a defeat for the United States," he says. "Assad may achieve a victory, but it doesn't mean the United States has lost."
Dowd follows on: "Foreign policy decisions and domestic policy decisions are being affected by two huge dynamics that are going on around the country. First, we spent a trillion dollars on a war and lost thousands of lives that ended up with us being no better off in the aftermath of the ten years. The country or the world, are no better off. And two, as of today...the trust in the government's ability to do anything right, foreign policy, domestic policy, is at an all-time low. You put that in a president's hands, he is really handcuffed in his ability to exercise any foreign policy, which is why this the agreement with Russia was the best case scenario for this president."
Gigot seems to think that with the deal in place there's no second bite at the apple if Assad uses weapons again, but that's a strange thing to say. If anything, it strengthens his hand. Gigot frets about the country being caught in "the diplomatic maze," which seems like a safer place to be then the cruise missile funhouse! He and Dowd briefly yell at each other, over how dumb Gigot is being.
Edwards contends that the fruit of all these efforts will be Iran walking away with renewed awareness of our seriousness, not the opposite.
Moving to the domestic front, Amash wants to trade the delaying of Obamacare for cuts favorable to the Republican party. This isn't actually a fair trade, and the way Amash presents this argument makes it hard to believe that he doesn't know that he's having a laugh. (The whole "Obama delayed the employer mandate so he must secretly want all of Obamacare to be delayed" construction is cute, but too clever by half.)
The very fact that we're suddenly back to the same old boring arguments on the same old boring stuff is a pretty good sign that everyone is actually pretty quietly happy with the way Syria is working out.
What would Dowd do if he were advising a President on how to avoid a "lost year?" Dowd says that there is a comparison to be made to second term Bush 43, and Obama needs to "change the trajectory" or otherwise end up irrelevant.
Gigot actually thinks that Obama would prefer a government shutdown, because it could alter the calculus in 2014 and make things more favorable to Democrats. I am skeptical of that notion, because I believe in electoral fundamentals and not airhead pundit notions, and the fact that "Obama probably wants a shutdown" is clearly becoming the hot notion at all the Beltway cocktail parties makes me turn against the notion even more. (We are never far away from one of those "Obama is going to replace Biden with Hillary, according to anonymous source," stories.)
FOX NEWS SUNDAY
Okay, today Chris Wallace is gone, John Roberts is filling in, and we're going to talk about Syria with Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-Mary.) and Michael McCaul (R-Tex.). And the conversation will also veer away from Syria, as we've already seen.
Plus Fox News Sunday has weird new music and stuff, and I don't like it.
So, Fox News sent a reporter out in the streets of Damascus (accompanied by handlers from the Assad regime) and everyone is sort of watching their reporter walk around with this "Oh, no, please don't talk to me look in their faces." They nevertheless corral a few people to speak and guess what, everyone says, something like, "OH HAI YEAH SOUNDS NICE." It's strongly implied that they are sort of saying what they are saying because there are governmenr handlers standing right there. So...that was useful.
The reporter goes on to report that some sort of civil war is happening, in Syria, he hears.
Finally we get to Van Hollen and McCaul. Roberts asks McCaul if there's any hope that this diplomatic plan would work? McCaul says that he hopes so, and reminds that from the beginning, his argument has been about securing the chemical weapons. "It will not be easy," he says, "but it can be done without a shot fired." He suggests that Putin now "owns this," and that this gives us an opportunity that we didn't previously have -- Putin, he suggests, simply has "more leverage" with Assad than we do.
But how do we verify that Assad is living up to the agreement? Van Hollen suggests that there are benchmarks that can be established, and then he utters the traditional Democratic talking point on how the threat of force made this possible, but I'll underscore again that the critical thing here is that Assad doesn't USE them again.
But would we have to put U.S. troops on the ground? McCaul says that there are details yet to be accounted for, and that hopefully maybe Russian forces would do that. But he then goes ahead and contends against Val Hollen's talking points, because what's way more important than Syrians being killed is who is "winning" inside the Beltway.
When you listen to this jabber, the first thing you think is, "Let's not put these man-children anywhere near a life or death decision."
Van Hollen says that there should be an "international team" of inspectors on the ground in Syria (that magically includes no Americans) and then he is back to fighting McCaul on the matter of the political talking points.
Roberts asks where the "teeth" are, in this agreement, and Van Hollen sort of does a whispery response, implying that the original idea of airstrikes are the "teeth." Somebody should tell that "international team" of inspectors.
McCaul may have just woken up, or something. Anyway, he and Van Hollen continue to limply spar over the Beltway-winner-chicken-dinner stuff. Van Hollen is asked if Putin "outfoxed" Obama, and Van Hollen basically says that if Putin wants to help deliver all of our objectives and call that "outfoxing" us, he's welcome to do that as often as he likes.
We're already in panel blather mode? I guess so, because suddenly the stern faces of Brit Hume, Jane Harman, and Bill Kristol are staring back at me, joined by the vacuous gaze of Charles Lane.
Hume says that "this has been a spectacle" to watch but it's ended in a solution that, while still practically problematic, is politically terrific, because suddenly everyone is off the hook -- President and Congress -- for a military response.
Harman says that what has surprised her the most is that the Beltway's powerful Consensus-Before-Intelligence Machine seems to have failed:
HARMAN: I thought that when Obama was poised to strike, something I personally would have supported, he looked around, nobody was with him. Nobody was publicly with him. I thought the notion was going to Congress was a good idea because I thought Congress would approve it. I remember the foreign policy consensus which obviously doesn't exist anymore where moderates in both parties would pull together. I am part of that consensus. David Ignatius writes today that it's splintered. It's gone.
This is very good news for the world, if true. I worry that we're not out of the woods yet, and that people around the world will continue to end up in bodybags labeled, by this grotesque clicque of incompetents, with the stamp "Brought to you by Beltway consensus."
I mean, it's good to be doubtful, because at the same time we're trying to get Assad to stop using chemical weapons, we are selling cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, of all places. Cluster bombs, in case you don't know, are these wonderful devices that are better than bombs in that after they explode, they litter the battlefield with tinier bombs, so that long after whatever immediate conflict is over, and the people who survive and the Red Cross are picking through the remains to find survivors or salvage their homes, these tiny bombs go off and kill those people too! Everyone who owns, sells, purchases, stockpiles, or uses these things is a monstrous scumbag.
Harman suggests that the upcoming Sochi Olympics might serve as a leverage point between the U.S. and Russia, because Putin is using Sochi as a sort of "rebranding" exercise. "I think that will...keep [Putin] in the tent," in this arrangement. (Who is going to use Sochi as a leverage point? The IOC and a bunch of global corporate brands hold all the leverage in any Olympics, and they aren't going to even stop Putin from persecuting gay people!)
Kristol adds: "Concern troll concern troll Iran Iran blah."
BITTER BATTLE BUDGET BLAH BLAH TIME. And the Puzzled Panel People have been briefly dismissed so that Representative Van Hollen can return and yell at Representative Tom Price (R-Ga.).
Will Price shut down the government to get what he wants? Price doesn't so much have an answer, as he does a monologue of bromides to deliver. It's all nonsense, but he's clearly worked on it for a long time, so they let him run with it. The general gist is that Price hates Obamacare and since Obama supports the delay of the employer mandate, he must secretly hate the whole bill too, so "delaying Obamacare" is, to Price's mind, "a bipartisan idea." Only ha ha no, Price clearly does not actually believe a word he is saying about that.
Roberts notices that Price did not answer his question and re-asks it. Price won't really say -- it's up to the Senate to do stuff now, not him. And it's really only the president who wants to shut down the government. Man, if Tom Price was going to come on teevee today to do all this shining on, I would have dropped off my dishes at his house. "Hey, Tom, do something useful for an American for a change," I would have said.
Several minutes of high-test corn-mash disingenuousness pass, and the baton is passed to Van Hollen, who must answer to the criticism of labor unions. This is what it took for Fox to stand up for Labor -- antipathy to Obamacare!
Van Hollen would rather draw a line around Price's statements, but Roberts presses, and Van Hollen tries to note that the employer mandate is "not central to the overall idea," and that the individual insurance market runs separately. To cease the implementation of the exchanges does nothing but keep people from obtaining insurance in the next calendar year. And Labor's objections are also separate from this: "The issue with the unions has to do with the ability to both claim tax credits in the exchange and get the tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance. As the president has said all along, we're willing to work out the kinks in this, but we're not going to throw out the central idea."
The media's approach to this is too clever by half, because they know full well what the sticking point is here -- the Democrats CANNOT tweak Obamacare, because no bill pertaining to Obamacare is going to make it to the President's desk that's not a repeal bill. One side wants to fix it, the other side wants to break it, and that's where we are. What changes the dynamic, and Van Hollen knows this, is the exchanges. If they work, people will never allow them to be dismantled. And it's becoming pretty clear that Obamacare opponents are worried about this. As I noted a few weeks ago: "By their rhetoric and their actions, Obamacare opponents have essentially shifted from being worried that the Affordable Care Act isn't going to work to being worried that the Affordable Care Act is going to work too well."
The Puzzled Panel People return, I guess to talk about this? Kristol says that he doesn't think that a government shutdown is going to happen (which increases the likelihood it will). Harman agrees that there won't be a shutdown, but she would nevertheless like to see the Affordable Care Act fixed, without getting gutted. Very hopeful, but naive. Hume guffs at the pro-shutdown crew, and Ted Cruz in particular, for ignoring the fact that it will really hurt the GOP.
Lane points out that he's noticed that there appear to be some fractured in the GOP caucus in the House. Cool insights, bro.
Kristol takes a stab at conflating the individual mandate with the employer mandate. I wonder how people like Kristol keep from getting bored, repeating arguments that you don't even believe over and over again. My God, if that was my life, I would live every day in complete despair.
I mean, watching these people live this life on these shows for three hours a week is one of the most unpleasant things in my life, and I am just watching. WOW, IT'S JUST NOW OCCURRING TO ME. Can you imagine being a Sunday Morning Pundit Person every day of your life? If you contemplate it for just a second, it's like your soul briefly fills up with death.
There is a good chance, then, that all of the people you regularly see on Sundays are actually there because they have been cursed. Speaking of, up next is...
MEET THE PRESS
Meet The Press starts everyday with a question they've no intention of answering, and today it's "Syria: can Obama win without a fight or is the deal just a stall tactic." And this show has literally been booked by Satan himself, because I'll have to sit here and watch Senator John McCain, Thomas Friedman, and Bob Woodward. I mean, when you are going to be looking to Kathleen Parker and Richard Wolffe for relief, that is one big ol' stinkfest of a show you got going.
HOLY SHIT PLUS HANK PAULSON IS HERE? Ugh. Let us get this done quickly.
First, for whatever reason, Andrea Mitchell is here to tell us that the deal with Russians is a big deal but what if it isn't a big deal, what then? There are all kinds of questions. But the thing that everyone seems to be able to agree on is that the option to use force remains on the table, so I guess that's good news? Everyone is really hoping, basically, that some more Syrians die so that we can launch some missiles in the name of avenging those dead Syrians, and kill some more Syrians.
David Gregory says that "he wanted [McCain] here" because he was an "outspoken voice" on Syria. Not because the noises that voice made sense, just that the voice was LOUD. You could hear it over the din of people lving their lives. The Good News For John McCain(TM) is that this ensures he'll still be booked by this show, long after he is simply someone yargling at the top of his lungs about whatever in his underwear in Lafayette Park.
McCain says, suppose this deal is made and Assad keeps killing people and...RECORD SCRATCH. There was never ever going to be a plan to stop Assad from merely killing people. This was always only about chemical weapons.
McCain also goes on to say (after Gregory tries to keep him on track) that our bombing plan was way too teensy for his liking. All his babble about the Russians is pretty neatly beside the point -- McCain just wants the big, regime-toppling war -- save for one thing: it's pretty clear that Putin has REALLY succeeded in trolling McCain with that op-ed. I'm pretty sure that most of what Putin intended to achieve with that op-ed in the New York Times was simply getting into McCain's head, rent-free, for some lulz. Mission accomplished.
The only concession that McCain continues to make to reality is that he keeps his ambitions constrained within the scenario of the "rebel" army being armed with our weapons and that being the thing that largely tips the balance on the battlefield. He's pretty upset that weapons are only getting there now. Of course, the sooner the balance of power tips away from Assad, the sooner he returns to using chemical weapons.
Also, lots of the people we are arming are terrorists.
McCain's basic position is that we should have waded into this quagmire years ago, I guess because maybe by now we'd all basically be, "Oh we're pointlessly involved in another unwinnable war? Sigh, I guess I'm at least used to this." I have no idea in the world who McCain would even replace Assad with -- this time he doesn't even have a Chalabi-like thug for the ghost of Christopher Hitchens to fap all over.
Now Senator Bob Menendez will pad his way through his own Meet The Press appearance. He is more amenable to the deal than McCain is, but still finds the deal "fraught" because Assad hasn't "signed on to it" yet. He worries that in the end, we could end up with Assad not signing on, the Russians continuing to veto us at the UN, and then we're back where we began "except that Assad has bought time on the battlefield and continued to ravage innocent civilians."
Maybe I need to reassure Menendez that no matter what ultimately happens with the deal, Assad is still going to "ravage innocent civilians," and -- in fact -- there was never, ever, going to be a plan that prevented Assad from "ravaging innocent civilians." The best that we ever put on offer was a plan to limit Assad to the means by which he did 98.7% of his total "innocent civilian ravaging." The chemical weapons, which were used to kill 1,400 (at the most) of the 110,000 total people killed, were the only thing we'd ever wanted to stop.
And Senator Roy Blunt is also here. Gregory wants to know if Congress will allow the use of force to remain an open option. Blunt says it depends on what the President means by this. Regardless, he didn't think that a targeted, limited airstrike that allowed Assad to crow about standing up to the U.S. was a bad idea.
There is a little bit of wrangling over what the "goals" are. Gregory says that the President's goals seem to be "don't get involved in a civil war" but "prevent chemical weapons from being used" and to Gregory's mind, "the American people are "not even for that." He is confusing public opposition to the airstrikes here. And besides, I think most people are very much behind not getting into the Syrian civil war.
Blunt offers that he thinks that Iran should not conclude that "what's happened in the last two weeks is not the template for Iran."
Well, the Washington Department of Football is actually making this recording of Meet The Press a preferable way to spend my time, but Lord! Lord you are testing me! We have arrived at the sophomoric soporifia segment, with Tom Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg and Robin Wright and Andrea Mitchell. Only the haughtiest of elites for these troubled times!
Gregory reads Friedman's own column to him and asks some question that doesn't really appear to have a subject or predicate or topic. Friedman monologues that all of the weird dealmaking may all end up preventing the use of chemical weapons, and kept us out of a military conflict, and could perhaps pave the way for a cease fire, so it's an "unamibiguous win for the region," he says. You know, provided everything goes that great and we get a magical cease fire, sure! I think that it's probably more likely that it will remain an unambiguous charnel house, and we will simply have to regret that Syria came to this point in a very complicated time in our American lives, when we were not able to actually help.
Oh wait, there's more Friedman stuff. He notes that the people have opposed this war, and in a statement to elites (like Friedman), the "base" is saying, "No we don't want this."
Goldberg says that this is an unambiguous victory for Assad -- but it's one that doesn't necessarily mean it's not an unambiguous victory for Obama, too. LOL, okay! Anyway, he finds the whole notion of disarming Assad to be silly, and it sort of is silly! But if the silly process prevents the weapons from being used, then I say bring on the silliness.
Wright says that there is a whole region undergoing turmoil and that we "need something much bigger out there to deal with Syria, Egypt, and the larger Middle East."
Andrea Mitchell performs a lengthy concern troll monologue: "What will the neighbors think?" She successfully trolls Goldberg and then gets Friedman going on a monologue about how the Syrian rebels are not Nelson Mandela and that not all of them want to specifically fight for a liberal democracy. "We need all these people to tell us who the Syrian opposition is, did we need anyone to tell us who Mandela was?" (Actually, Thomas, Maggie Thatcher considered Mandela to be a terrorist.)
Wright points out that the Syrian opposition has not yet achieved anything internally that looks like a shadow government. Mitchell interjects that there was at least one Syrian rebel leader that disliked the deal we made with the Russians. Goldberg finishes this off concern-trolling over whethr or not we've signalled to Iran that we don't really mean any of out military threats we've lopped at the regime.
Now we have another panel, here to be even less interesting. Kathleen Parker has found Obama's processes on Syria to be painful to watch, but things could in the end work out, and then she would need to reappraise.
David Gregory utters one of the great David Gregoryisms: "The way he's led up until now could really be dependent upon the outcome." HA, YES. It's amazing! "Leadership" may not have anything to do with "process" or "message" or "narrative" or "I have some feelings as I watch news unfold," sometimes it is really just about outcomes.
Woodward also thinks that maybe the outcomes of a process are what is important. But Ana Navarro says, "I dunno, we've seen the sausage making." She doesn't like the sausage making, watching it, hearing about it. So even if the sausage is totally delicious, she's against it.
Gregory asks them all what they would have done if they were president. Parker says that she's never been in favor of going in to Syria. Too problematic! But she doesn't go on to say what she would have done, she reverts right back to being a critic of what Obama did. I think that maybe what Parker should appreciate is that as a pundit, she can sort of lean back in her Aeron chair and haughtily proclaim, "Well, of course, I wouldn't have gone into Syria! Oh, heavens no." But that's the luxury she doesn't enjoy as President.
She's also really concerned that by inviting Assad into a dick-measuring contest, we might start thinking of Assad's dick as equal to our own. What a weird thing to worry about!
Woodward seems to disagree, in that we've actually found ourselves at a very good point in all of this. But he's concerned that we got to this good point by accident, instead of meticulous statecraft over the past two years, following a strategy of timelines and deliverables. Maybe if things are good, they don't really count, because we didn't Six Sigma everything!
Wolffe ends up this crowd's real-keeper, saying that sure, the President's taken a knock or two, but we've launched no attack, we have a vastly improved agreement over the weapons that retains the stick that is the use of force, and we've not gotten into bed with sketchy rebels. And those outcomes are all good from the point of view of American interests.
Now we move to the fiscal crises. Woodward says that not raising the debt ceiling is "serious," and that the GOP is being ruled by extortionists. Someone may have bought Woodward a clue sandwich. Parker and Navarro take pains to distance themselves from the GOP's bath-salts caucus. And that mercifully concludes this part of the show.
Here is a short segment that really is just the perfect summation of this show and it's awfulness. Chuck Todd is here, with a poll, that finds the 44% of respondents believe that the debt ceiling should not be raised, and 22% should be.
Now, the debt ceiling MUST be raised, there is no CHOICE in the matter, because not raising it causes the U.S. to default on its credit, and that causes a global economic cataclysm. But in fairness, lots of people don't understand the debt ceiling -- and you can't blame them! The fact that we call it a "ceiling" implies that we are periodically "raising" the thing to allow for more room for more debt.
It's a bad metaphor. Raising the debt ceiling isn't an act of giving permission to incur new debts, it's an act where we affirm our intention to pay old ones. Everytime your rent goes up, you are obliged to pay the amount if you want to continue to honor the lease you signed. When your monthly budget thus goes from say, $4500 a month, to $4750 a month, based on obligatory payments, you have RAISED YOUR DEBT CEILING. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling is telling your landlord, "I'm sorry, I'm going to stick with the level out outlay I have, and instead of zeroing out another expense, I'm just not going to pay you the extra money."
Your landlord will probably say, well, that's cool, my position is pay me or I evict you, have a nice day.
Not raising the debt ceiling essentially evicts the global economy from it's messy but liveable home and turns the world on its end. So, the 44% of people who oppose raising the debt ceiling are simply wrong.
Todd notes some good news, though! Public opinion on the matter is in the exact same place it was the last time there was a crisis, and by the time it ended, "more of the public moved into in favor of raising the debt ceiling." That's great!
Here's the dumb part!
TODD: What this shows the president has to use political capital and time to flip these numbers.
No it doesn't, dumbass. The president doesn't actually have to spend a dime of political capital or a second of time to fix this. Let me tell you what you do instead. You get a bunch of teevee cameras together, and you point them at a person who does nothing more than repeat an objectively true explanation of the debt ceiling to the camera, and then you beam it around the world and into people's homes. And you keep doing that over and over again until the public has it right! It's not their fault they're wrong, they just don't have the information. Give them the information. It's called "service journalism" and it's easy and even fun. But instead of doing this, the media wants to honor "the other side of the debt ceiling debate" even though that is an objectively insane thing to want to honor.
Why is the President going to have to spend political capitol literally saving the global economy from easily remedied ignorance and the demogoguery that preys on it? Part of the reason will be because when he had a perfect opportunity to explain the underlying issue to America, Chuck Todd and David Gregory just couldn't be bothered. That's why the President has to go to immense trouble to stave off the simplest crises.
The show is literally going to spend ten minutes on the financial crisis. "Such a big topic," Gregory says.
Paulson says everything is fine, don't worry, everyone can take such satisfaction in how they handled the financial crisis. Frank says that the financial crisis could not happen in the same way again, because surely no one is taking risks in the housing market again and surely no one will ever sell a bad mortgage again, or give a triple-A rating to derivatives stuffed with them, surely surely. And surely, no bank continues to operate under the notion that they'll get to get a bailout, ever again, surely surely.
Maria Bartiromo is just sad that we've not yet moved the conversation past "Is Wall Street evil." Because she disagrees with that, as they have treated her very well and made her an infotainment celebrity.
Paulson "could not agree more" with Bartiromo.
This is depressing. At least Frank puts the neg on the idea that the bankers are an oppressed class, pointing out that while they all complain that they can't yet do the basics of the jobs, they still give themselves huge bonuses for the jobs that they can't do.
"Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha." laughs everyone. They add, "Ha ha ha." For a minute there, it looked like the meritocracy was going to come under criticism. But the house always wins.
Okay, well, I think I'm going to watch my football team get slaughtered. Hope things work out for all of you! Have a lovely week!
[The liveblog returns September 22, 2013. In the meantime, check out my Rebel Mouse page for fun reads from around the web.]