Friday, September 27, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: P.R., Spin And Hype Crowd Out Almost Everything Else

Senator Ted Cruz’s recent pseudo-filibuster, and
President Obama’s just-made speech revealing he
spoke by telephone with the president of Iran, are
just the latest examples of high-level public relations,
spin and hype by top leaders of both parties, almost
all of them an attempt to gain psychological political
advantage using the media. Most of it, frankly, is
illusionary, and despite its melodrama, leads to
very little of substance.

The purpose of Senator Cruz’s gambit was not to
stop Obamacare, as it was advertised, but to assure
himself a place in the Republican conservative
leadership and, probably as well, put himself high on
the list of names being considered for the GOP
nomination for president in 2016.

The purpose of President Obama’s press conference
about his phone conversation with the president of
Iran does not mean that any agreement with Iran
regarding its nuclear weapons development is even
one iota closer. It was an attempt by Mr. Obama to
regain some of the credibility of his leadership in
foreign affairs which has been significantly lost in the
past two years.

Nor should their be any illusion by recent efforts by
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, former
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Marco
Rubio of Florida, Vice President Joe Biden and other
politicians of both parties, to grab headlines and TV
news spots to propel themselves into 2016 presidential
attention or regain standing for declining public

Of course, such behavior is, and has always been, a
normal occurrence in American politics. Before the
advent of television and the internet, the media used
were newspapers, magazines and radio news.

But whether it takes place in the 19th century, the 20th
century, or the 21st century, it is necessary to remember
it is public relations, spin and hype. It is also necessary
to remember that all is not illusion, but that true substance
of events usually takes place behind the scenes, without
much hoop-la, and is revealed to the public over time.

As I have previously pointed out, there is not going to be
any real government shut-down, Obamacare will not be
defunded unless the Republicans take back control of
the senate in the 2014 mid-term elections, and the
current policies of the Obama administration are not
going to lead to any meaningful settlement with Iran.

Of course, all public speeches and statements are not
necessarily illusory and entirely self-promoting. But the
current state of press bias and media hyper-concentration
makes the ability to discern the puffery from the true to be
very problematic. This is the shame and responsibility of
our contemporary media establishment.

Getting public attention for one’s personal and policy
ambitions, restoring lost political credibility, and running
for higher and higher office are absolutely normal and
proper actions in our democratic republic. In themselves,
there is nothing wrong or bad or improper.

But to take them at face value, to promote them as true
and real, especially in the burgeoning illusory
communications environment of contemporary
society is asking for trouble.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Myth Of The Government Shut-Down

The government of the United States is not going to be
shut down this week. Or next week. Even if the continuing
budget resolution is not passed by both the U.S. house and
senate, and signed by the president, the government will
not be shut down.

A government shut-down has become a term of political
myth, partisan melodrama, and rhetorical comedy.

First, the vital functions of the government are not ever
shut down. Second, the current impasse is an incessant
replay of a wearying political soap opera in which one
party attempts to score points in public opinion against
the other party. (Usually these points are won by the party
occupying the White House because of any president’s
media advantage. This heavily favors Democrats since
the Old Media overwhelmingly favors the liberal party.)
Third, most of those who endure any consequences are
government employees, most of whom vote for Democrats.
Presidents can also easily grandstand by closing down
low-cost items such as White House tours (which seem
much more important than they are).

The last “shut-down” confrontation produced the celebrated
“sequesters” which were advertised in advance by the
Obama administration as imminent disasters. In fact, the
sequesters have turned out to be rather effective, if uneven,
as a limit on public spending and only a minor inconvenience.
Sequestering is not a viable permanent solution, but as a
short-term strategy, it has turned out unexpectedly well.

Obamacare is in deep trouble. The administration has
already postponed major parts of the legislation, and might
have to postpone more. The various components of the
labyrinthine so-called healthcare reform are mostly not
ready to be implemented. The Democratic legislation itself
is extraordinarily unpopular, and in 2010 led to an electoral
disaster in that year’s midterm elections. It threatens to
result in the same in 2014. Various states have already begun
to set up Obamacare exchanges, and some are claiming they
will work, but the numbers so far do not add up. Until
these claims are unequivocably demonstrated, they should
be treated as hype and propaganda.

Senator Ted Cruz conducted a 21-hour pseudo-filibuster
against funding Obamacare, but it was not meant to be
anything more than publicity monologue for the Texas
senator, aimed at the conservative political base. Immediately
after concluding his effort, Mr. Cruz voted along with the
entire senate (100-0) to begin the debate on the continuing
resolution that inevitably led to its passage.

The U.S. house has voted one more time to defund Obamacare,
with Republicans again fulfilling their promise to vote against
the unpopular legislation. However, without control of the
U.S. senate and the White House, any action of theirs is
symbolic, and cannot accomplish anything except public

Some of the most thoughtful conservatives who strongly
oppose Obamacare have suggested that Republicans in
Congress should, in effect, get out of the way, and let the
long-winded, contradictory and unsustainable legislation
begin to take effect. As totally the political property of the
Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack
Obama, these conservatives say, let them take the
inevitable backlash for its construction and enactment.
Former Republican Governor Mike Huckabee, now a
conservative TV commentator/host, has made this case
particularly well.

Like so many political issues today, the realities are clouded
by emotional and intimidating rhetoric. “Government
shut-down” is one of the most blatant examples of this.

The public should ignore these petty games, and demand
that both parties work out settlements that will actually
improve healthcare delivery, boost the economy by helping
entrepreneurship, lower unemployment and stimulate the
public markets.

The political comedy has become a farce, and isn't even a
bit funny.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Do The Off-Year Elections Matter in 2013?

Every two years there are national congressional elections
in which the entire U.S. house of representatives goes to
the voters. U.S. senators have six-year terms, so one-third
of that body goes before the voters every two years.
Gubernatorial terms in the 50 states are mostly four-years,
although some states still have two-year terms. But most
contests for governor coincide with the two-year cycle of
the national elections.

Two states, however, schedule their gubernatorial elections
between the two-year cycles. As a result, New Jersey and
Virginia will hold their elections for governor this
November. As an unusual twist on this, New Jersey will also
hold in mid-October a special election for U.S. senator to
fill the seat of the late incumbent who recently died.

The question is, especially because the nation is on the cusp
of a pivotal mid-term election in 2014, will the results in
2013 tell us anything about might happen in 2014?

In 2009, of course, the same states held the same elections
for governor, and the special U.S. senate race was held in
Massachusetts where incumbent liberal icon Ted Kennedy
had unexpectedly died. (The actual vote in the senate special
election in the Bay State was conducted in early 2010.)
Massachusetts, being one of the most liberal states in the
nation, was considered a slam-dunk for the Democrats as
was the race for governor in New Jersey, but the results sent
out shock waves  when the two Republicans, political unknown
Scott Brown won the senate seat, and little-known Chris
Christie were elected governor of New Jersey. At the same
time, a Republican was elected governor of Virginia,
interrupting several terms of Democratic governors.
In 2010, the GOP won historic victories in the U.S. house,
taking back control of it by a large margin. Republicans
also significantly increased their representation in the
senate, and picked up many governors.

In retrospect, then, 2009 was a signal of what was to follow
in the national mid-term elections of 2010.

In 2013, Governor Christie is running for re-election, and
holds a huge lead in the polls against his Democratic
opponent.  Mayor Cory Booker of Newark likewise holds
a huge lead in the polls agains his GOP opponent in the
New Jersey senate race. In Virginia, there is a very close
contest for governor between Republican state Attorney
General Ken Cuccinelli and long-time Democratic
operative Terry McAuliffe.

It would appear that, unlike 2009, there is very little chance
that 2013 will mean much about next year’s elections.
Of course, if either Mr. Christie (currently one of the
frontrunners for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination) or
Mr. Booker lost, those upsets would be shocking, but the
possibility of either, barring something now unforeseen,
is almost nil. The race for Virginia governor is something
of a spectacle of political contempt. Each candidate is
idiosyncratically controversial registering unusually high
negatives in polls. Mr. Cucinelli has been labeled as too
conservative, and Mr. McAuliffe has been associated with
numerous scandals. As election day approaches, Mr.
McAuliffe’s initial lead in the polls has faded into a
virtual tie. It is probably going to be an ugly, knock-down
battle at the end, and it is difficult to imagine how either
party if it wins, would be able to credibly spin their victory
as having national implications.

The most newsworthy story will probably be the margin
of Mr. Christie’s victory, and how that plays into the
governor’s now presumed presidential ambitions.

Not that party leaders and some commentators won’t try
to make something out of the other results, but no one
should buy any spin that will result.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Those who favor the notion that the Republicans should
take back control of the U.S. senate in the 2014 national
midterm elections should take notice that insurgent
forces on the conservative side are once again intending
to defeat incumbent GOP senators in primaries and
replace them with candidates who might not be able to
win in the general election.

This phenomenon in its present form first appeared in
2010, an otherwise good Republican cycle in which voters
returned control of the U.S. house to the GOP by a wide
margin. Republicans made gains in their U.S. senate
delegation that year, but fell short of their potential
when several of their incumbents were defeated in GOP
primaries and inappropriate, not-ready-for-prime-time
candidates were nominated in other races.

In 2012, Republicans were optimistic they would defeat
President Obama in his re-election effort, maintain
control of the U.S. house, and possibly win back control
of the U.S. senate. Their advantage was so great in the
number of vulnerable senate incumbents and open
vulnerable seats up for re-election that year, that it was
assumed at the very least that they would increase their
number of seats. In fact, they lost seats. Part of the
reason was the superior nationwide get-out-the vote
effort by the Democrats that year, and part of it was
that the liberal party put up outstanding candidates
in close races (Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota is a
case in point). In one race, the Democrats played “dirty
pool” by enabling a weak GOP candidate in the
Republican senate primary in Missouri to defeat
stronger candidates, and then as nominee, he behaved so
badly that the very vulnerable Democratic incumbent
was able to win. In Indiana, long-time incumbent
GOP Senator Richard Lugar was defeated in his
primary by a candidate much to his right, and like
the GOP nominee in Missouri, campaigned so poorly
that the Democrat won a seat considered “safe
Republican.” In other senate races, Republicans
did not nominate strong candidates, and lost several
opportunities to pick up seats from the Democrats.

Having so recently been badly burned within their own
party in choosing poor U.S. senate nominees, one would
think that the national Republican Party would take
strong and effective steps to avert these problems.

In the 2014 cycle approaching, however, (when again
Republicans have the numerical advantage in number
of contested seats) at least four otherwise “safe” GOP
incumbents might face challenges from the conservative
right. They include the senate minority leader Mitch
McConnell from Kentucky, Senator Lamar Alexander
for Tennessee, Senator Lindsey Graham of South
Carolina. and Senator Susan Collins from Maine.
Each are considered by some factions in their own
party too “moderate,” but none of them (perhaps
excluding McConnell) could lose in 2014 in the general
election. If they are replaced by other GOP candidates,
however, the seats could likely be won by Democrats,
especially if their replacements represented more extreme
views (as was the case in 2010 and 2012).

If the Republican were to lose all or even two of these
four “safe” seats, it would be almost impossible for the
party to regain control of the U.S. senate.

But that’s not all. In other states, with no GOP incumbent,
but vulnerable Democrats or open seats up for re-election,
there are so far several factional fights among Republicans
which might produce the kind of GOP senate nominees
which failed so badly in previous cycles.

One example of this is Iowa. Incumbent Democratic
Senator Tom Harkin is retiring. The other Iowa senator is
popular conservative Chuck Grassley. Terry Branstad is the
long-time GOP governor. Iowa is a swing state, and in 2014
could be a Republican pick-up. The Democrats have
already (informally) chosen Congressman Bruce Braley as
their senate candidate. On the GOP side, however, are
numerous hopefuls, some of whom hold views that make
them virtually unelectable in a general election (although
one of them could win the nomination in a crowded primary).

Republican chances to pick up senate seats in Montana,
South Dakota, West Virginia and Arkansas now look bright
because their likely nominees appear strong. Lacking so far
a competitive GOP nominee in Minnesota means that the
potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbent will win.
The same is true in New Hampshire and Delaware. But
potential GOP pick-ups in North Carolina, Alaska,
Louisiana and Michigan are becoming mired in many cases
by poor recruiting and/or intraparty squabbles. An open
contest in Georgia for a seat previously held by a Republican,
so far lacking a strong GOP candidate, could be lost.

It must be admitted that most of the favorable trend to the
Republicans in 2014, and in 2016, results from the lack of
success to date of President Obama and his administration
policies, both domestic and international. Unemployment
remains very high, and the economy seems stuck too close
to the bottom it recently reached. Security and privacy
issues which have arisen under Mr. Obama’s watch have
unnerved many Americans, and created uncertainty about
the Democrats ability to manage and lead. But, so far, the
Republicans have failed to present and persuade the
substance and the image of a better alternative. One
conservative group has been successful, and that is the
large number of GOP governors who have pursued
conservative policies of lower taxes, lower spending, fewer
regulations, and less government intrusion on individuals.
Their success stories are having impact in their states, but
somehow the national Republican party has not been able
to transform their state-level success into a national message.

Republicans, like Democrats, have supporters with a range
of views. Any political party, in order to be successful at the
polls, it goes without saying, needs to keep most of its base
of supporters voting for it at the polls. There is much to be
said also for the need to excite the core of the base at election
time. These two conditions, both necessary, sometimes are a
challenge to fulfill at the same time. But difficult or not, this
will be critically a requisite for Republican victory in 2014
and 2016. The tensions that now inhibit this will not likely go
away on their own. The basic political fact remains that almost
nothing is more important than having a strong candidate.
Weak candidates rarely win and excellent candidates do not
usually lose.

Republicans, it appears, already will be able to raise necessary
campaign cash and provide good campaign organizations.
But Republican leaders, activists and strategists who want to
take back the national government will have to come up with
more outstanding and widely appealing candidates in U.S.
senate races, and soon.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Contemplation And Renewal

For some of the readers of The Prairie Editor, this is a
season for contemplation, atonement and renewal, and
in this spirit, it might be useful to review the mood and
prespects of Americans as we move toward the middle
of the second decade of a new millenium.

For many of the readers (but not all), the year 2013 has
been marked by political disappointment, domestic and
international; and further, to a growing sense of gloom
and foreboding. The recent crisis in the Syrian civil war
and our seemingly feckless role in it, has heightened a
general sense that the role of the United States in the world
is not only declining, but that both the nation’s and the
world’s security is entering a new period of high risk and
danger. Domestically, a recently rising stock market is not
being accompanied by lower unemployment, and credible
long-term increased profits and stronger markets. The
heralded conclusion of recent credit market intervention
has been signaled, and there is the uncertainty of prospects
of higher interest rates, the return of inflation, and a
damper on the housing market. Internationally, the U.S.
has seemed to go from debacle to debacle, especially in the
Middle East where a perennial tinderbox of violence and
conflict threatens international stability anew. Temporary
calm in the Eurozone disguises the chronic instability of this
important world market, and the return of Russia as an
international maverick has further set back the optimism at
the outset of the post Cold War era.

As I mentioned, not all agree with above assessment,
particularly those who remain as defenders of the current
White House administration. They are looking forward to
changes that the implementation of Obamacare, to the
consequences of higher taxes and more federal regulations,
seeing in them and White House policy a better, and more
fair, American society. They approve of the reduction of our
armed forces, and our reduced role in world affairs. Their
numbers, however, seems at present, to be declining,
especially in the absence of evidence that their goals are
being realized. To be fair, of course, that evidence could
come later, but the evidence so far indicates an opposite
direction and outcome.

But a sense of gloom and foreboding might not be merited
either. A bit more than a year from now, the U.S. electorate
will be able to pass judgment on current national policies.
The midterm elections provide an opportunity for voters
to return control of the legislative process to a different
mindset. At the very least, President Obama might well
become an even more “lame duck” in the White House, and
his ability to turn U.S policies more to the left and
disengaged will be limited, as voters express a desire for a
more center right government.

Beyond that, in 2016, voters will select a new president, and
unless the Democratic nominee that year can successfully
communicate a dramatic new policy direction, it is much
more likely than not that a Republican will retake the
executive office.

In a democratic capitalist society, voters and markets
assert themselves with a certain regularity, and the
periodic pessimism of alternating out-of-power liberals
and out-of-power conservatives is always replaced with
the challenges and opportunities of new circumstances and

Of course, profound events can and do intervene, as the
end of the Cold War was followed by September 11, the
Arab Spring-turned-Winter, and a prolonged international
economic downturn. Predictions about the future are almost
always problematic, and the notion of the world operating
merely in narrow historic cycles can be deceiving.

Gloom and foreboding about imminent disasters in the
economy and world political affairs are almost always
short-term matters. That is because democratic capitalist
societies are always visited by change, and so far, by
long-term improvements. That is particularly true of the
United States to date, and that historical reality is the best
rebuke to Russian president Putin’s recent rhetorical
attempt to belittle American exceptionalism and

It was not that long ago when a Russian government murdered
millions of its own farmers and citizens, and later made a
cynical pact with Adolf Hitler, finally needing the intervention
of the U.S. and the West to rescue it from being over-run by
Nazi armies. That does not mean to diminish the great
sacrifice and courage of the Russian people in World War II,
but it should remind Mr. Putin that he is no position to
lecture others, especially since the Russia he now leads
has tried to adopt the “exceptional” Western democratic
capitalist model to replace the failed Marxist one of the
Soviet era.

The message then, at this outset of the autumn season of
2013, is one of caution and vigilance, but certainly not one of
imminent doom and disaster. Of course, an asteroid could
collide with the earth, a new ice age could appear, and, alas,
natural disasters will surely occur, but this is a time not to
throw up our hands in despair.

Rather, it is a time, learning from our mistakes, to put our
hands to the hard work for better times ahead.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Curious Debacle: A "Jerry Lewis" Foreign Policy?

As we come to the conclusion of the current so-called
Syrian crisis, with its sound and fury of “red lines”
and “war crimes” faded into the soft embarrassed
pinks of salvageable faces, it might be instructive to
review this curious debacle.

Time will tell more, of course, and the final outcomes
are not yet realities, but President Obama’s original
warnings of military action against the regime of
Syrian President Assad for allegedly using chemical
warfare against his own civilians have cooled down into
a limp compromise proposed by Russian President
Putin in which Syria will turn over its chemical weapons
to international control, and will sign the treaty
agreeing not to use such chemicals in the future.

If the compromise, made by Mr. Putin following a
diplomatic gaffe by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,
were truly enforceable and authentic, of course, it
might actually be an indirect, albeit bumbling, triumph
for Mr. Obama, but is there anyone seriously informed
about world affairs who believes that Syria will, in fact,
surrender all of its chemical weapons in that part of the
world where chemical warfare has been commonplace
for three decades, and in the midst of a do-or-die civil
war with ruthless rebels?

For those who remember the antics of Dean Martin and
Jerry Lewis in those post-World War II comedy films,
there is something  reminiscent of the almost-silly
behavior of the “inexperienced” Jerry with his “suave”
straight man Dean. Of course, as Jerry Lewis has
acknowledged in his autobiography, Dean Martin was a
consummate comedian himself, but the schtick was that
Jerry played the fool and often somehow got what he
wanted. If Mr Obama is playing Jerry Lewis, then is Mr.
Kerry or Mr. Putin playing Dean Martin?

Alas, real-world international politics are not cinematic
fantasies. The fact remains that about 1400 actual Syrian
civilian men, women and children died horribly from
chemical warfare. More than 100, 000 Syrians on both
sides have reportedly died in the civil war which pits one
Islamic religious faction against another. Both sides are
quite capable of atrocities. The rebels have been reported
attacking Christians and their churches. Terror and violence
predominates this conflict on both sides. Neither side is
made up of forces which look kindly on the U.S., although
the rebel side is always willing to take our material help,
whether they are grateful or not.

Mr. Putin, like him or not, is proving to be a serious
international player. He has clearly outplayed Mr. Obama
at almost every turn, including the tour de force of
offering to “control” Syria’s chemical weapons.

When Mr. Obama, at the last minute, tried to obtain the
support of the U.S. Congress when he did not need it, his
bluff turned into a farce. If he hoped to use Republican
opposition to his advantage in next year’s mid-term
elections, it backfired, with numerous Democratic
senators and house members balking, so many that there
is no way to describe the opposition except as “bipartisan.”

Having set down a “red line” in the sand at the outset of
this crisis, Mr. Obama trapped himself. No doubt he is
genuinely appalled by the tragic casualties in Syria, as
most Americans are, but his job is to drive ably through the
complex obstacles of international politics to arrive at
a reasonable solution. Instead, he got stalled on the side
of the road.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved

Saturday, September 7, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Syria in 2014 U.S. Politics

There is not much discussion yet about the impact of
the current Syrian crisis on domestic U.S. politics in
next year’s national mid-term elections, but there will
be soon enough.

What is so curious about this crisis is that the usual
“rules” are not being observed in public opinion,
specifically, that the public almost always rallies around
a president when he is about to launch an international
military action.

Every public opinion poll I’ve seen shows American
voters overwhelmingly opposed to Mr. Obama’s call for
support for military action to punish the Syrian
government for the recent use of chemical warfare
against Syrian civilians. That public opinion is not only
negative to “boots on the ground,” but also to bombing
and/or missile attacks.

Initial soundings among members of Congress shows
that the U.S. senate is much more likely to grant the
president that support, but even that is not certain
inasmuch as the early “whip” count shows about 40
senators in favor and 25 against. But many incumbent
Democratic senators are up for re-election next year, and
a “yes” vote for military action against Syria could have
hitherto unplanned negative electoral consequences.
Moreover, should opponents decide to wage a filibuster,
the supporters of the president would need 60 votes to
bring their “sense” of the senate to an actual vote.

In the U.S. house, however, the early “whip” count is
overwhelmingly negative. In fact, combining already
committed “no” votes with strongly leaning “no” votes,
the opposition already has a tentative majority. Those
committed to support the president are only so far about
35 (there are now about 220 votes likely to vote “no”).

Of course, Mr. Obama has cards yet to play. General
Petraeus has endorsed his action, as have numerous
Republican establishment figures, including the GOP
speaker of the house and the majority leader. Leaders
in both the house and senate, however, are calling this a
“conscience” vote, that is, the usual “whip” procedures
will not be observed.

House and senate members up for re-election next year
cannot ignore the public opinion polls, especially if their
races are in any way close.

If the administration makes this a vote about Mr. Obama’s
“credibility,” they risk losing undecided Republican votes.
There is also the reality that, as a foreign policy player,
Mr. Obama’s reputation already is at a low point.

With Pope Francis inserting himself so forcefully into this
crisis by opposing any military action by the U.S., an
important “humanitarian” segment of the population,
grass roots Catholic voters, have received a strong signal
to oppose any proposed U.S. action. A number of Catholic
members of Congress are currently listed as “undecided,”
and are now perhaps less inclined to support the

Pro-Israel groups, including those considered conservative,
have so far been supportive of Mr. Obama’s proposed
military action, and are lobbying members of Congress to
vote “yes,” but short of military action that would promote
“regime change” in Syria, the case has not yet been made
how limited or symbolic bombing significantly enhances
Israel’s security.

It is true that part of the opposition to military action is
being fueled by "isolationist" groups on the right (and left),
and pacifist groups on the left, but the overwhelming
numbers of the opposition in public opinion polls could not
exist if it were not that most Americans in the political
center (who are neither isolationist nor pacifist) also
opposed token or symbolic military actions in Syria, and
were weary of military efforts that produce no decisive

Spokespersons for the Obama administration are now saying
that military action would significantly degrade Mr. Assad’s
air and ground forces, and would punish him for the use of
chemical weapons against his own civilian population.
Supporters of the president’s action, on both sides of the
aisle, cite the high quality of the U.S. military forces and its
capabilities as an assurance that any U.S. action would
“make a big difference” in the Syrian civil war.

But lacking a public and credible explicit plan (which given
the nature of warfare is admittedly probably not possible),
the withdrawal of our main ally, Great Britain, from any
campaign (because of strong British public opinion against
military action), and the political ambiguity of the Syrian
opposition to the Assad regime, it is difficult to see how
U.S. public opinion is going to change in the near future.

If U.S. voters were merely split on this issue, it might be
possible to turn the vote in Congress around, but with such
overwhelming public opposition now registering, it might
well be self-immolating for any member of Congress to
support new military action in Syria just a year ahead of
national mid-term elections, especially in the context of a
foreign policy which is timid, undefined, and so far,

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All right reserved.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Follow Up - What Is To Be Done In Syria?

Several days ago, I suggested that American military
action in Syria, the use of chemical weapons by Syrians
against their own people notwithstanding, was not
advisable. I enumerated the American past experience
in the Middle East, going back to the Versailles
Conference of 1919 when Euro-U.S. interference and
involvement in the region began, and continuing with
our inability to control events during the so-called
“Arab Spring" and its aftermath. I did suggest that some
serious effort should be made to punish those who used
the chemical weapons against civilians, which was clearly
a horrendous war crime.

Since I wrote my thoughts in “What Should Be Done” on
these pages, no military action by the U.S. has taken
place, but the Obama administration has ordered military
preparations to make such action imminent. Before
ordering that action, President Obama, as commander-
in-chief, decided to ask for the support of the U.S.
Congress, and hearings for this are now taking place.
It is not clear what Mr. Obama would do if he fails to
receive congressional support. He has said it is not
necessary, but he has asked for it anyway.

I would agree with the president that the proposed
limited action, presumably bombing of Syrian targets
(but no U.S. troops on the ground), does not require
congressional approval. His gesture is clearly a political
one. If he fails to get approval (more likely in the U.S.
house than in the U.S. senate), he thus can rationalize
his failure to observe his earlier warning to Syria that
he would act if the “red line” of chemical weapons use
was crossed. If he does get approval, he can share any
blame that might result from U.S. action with the
Republican opposition. His greatest risk would be
taking action without the approval of both houses of

In the case of British Prime Minister David Cameron,
he called Parliament back into session and sought
approval for British action in Syria from a House of
Commons his party clearly controlled. But in an
historic turn of events, the House voted against his
request, the first such action there since 1782 when the
British leader Lord North asked for further military
action against the rebellious American colonies, and
was turned down. Mr. Cameron promptly withdrew his
nation from the Western alliance planning to take action.

Only France today remains firmly committed to action
in Syria.

Since there is very little support in the U.S. (and, to be
fair, within the Obama administration) to commit troops
to any action in Syria, the obvious choices seem limited
to various aerial attacks by planes or missiles against
Syrian military assets, including their remaining
chemical warfare supplies. The question is: What
meaningful result can occur from such a limited action?
This question is especially pertinent since any element
of surprise is presumably gone with all the publicity to
our intentions in the region. A decisive military action
or a highly successful special military operation might
be justifiable now, but there is no indication yet that our
military has that in mind, nor that Mr. Obama would
permit it.

But is Mr. Obama’s personal credibility, following more
than a month of hesitation and delay, worth the
expenditure of an expensive but only probable symbolic
gesture? And what of that always critical factor, the
unintended consequences, of any action we might take?
“Uninentended consequences” have been, so far, the major
reality of our involvement in the seeming permanently
hostile (to the U.S.) Middle East.

I do not share the same rationale that most U.S. “isolationist”
officials and commentators have brought forward so far. I do
not believe that the U.S. can retreat from its unique role in the
world, nor be indifferent to threats, violence and subversion
to the world’s democracies. But I do think that the use of
American power, military and economic, must be employed
more wisely and effectively than it has been recently. Nothing
from the Obama administration so far indicates that any
proposed military action would fulfill that goal.

Until and unless Commander-in-Chief Obama can prepare
and execute a military action that would make a positive
difference in the Middle East, Congress should withhold its
support and consent.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.