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Op-ed: Unbelievably small and incredibly unpersuasive

Posted: September 11, 2013 - 4:23pm

Now that John Kerry is the secretary of state, his gaffes can launch major diplomatic initiatives.

A reporter in London asked what Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could do to avoid war. Kerry responded: “He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.”

The State Department quickly noted that the secretary was merely making a rhetorical point. But the Russians immediately embraced the Kerry flourish as a serious proposal. It was “welcomed” by Damascus and spoken of warmly by the U.N. secretary-general and the British and French governments.

In her highly anticipated remarks on the Syria crisis, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said action on the Kerry gaffe-turned-plan would be an “important step.” In his briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney triumphantly noted that there wouldn’t have been so much diplomatic progress absent the “credible threat” of force.

Never mind that Kerry punctuated the launch of his unintended Syria peace plan with the words “it can’t be done.” In a storm, any port will do, and during a catastrophic meltdown of an administration’s case for war, so will any diplomatic fig leaf.

Not all of Kerry’s gaffes in London rose to the level of game-changing diplomacy. He said the strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.” Surely, Kerry was making another one of his rhetorical points, that compared with, say, Dresden or “Shock and Awe,” the strike on Syria would be a much more circumscribed affair. But “unbelievably small” is not a rallying cry.

An anonymous administration official resorted to an analogy to children’s cereal. As USA Today paraphrased his explanation: “If Assad is eating Cheerios, we’re going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he’ll still be able to eat Cheerios.”

A military strike to change Assad’s options in breakfast flatware is even less stirring than Kerry’s assurance of unbelievable smallness. At the beginning of what is supposed to be the administration’s full-court press for a strike, it has done more to open itself to mockery than to persuade, more to set back its case than to advance it.

Part of the problem, besides simple incompetence, is that the administration has dual, and conflicting, audiences. The president’s political base wants a strike to be as symbolic as possible, while the rapidly diminishing number of Republican supporters want it to be as robust as possible. Please one side and you alienate the other.

And then there’s the mismatch between rhetoric and means. The natural language of American warfare is highly moralistic and a little apocalyptic, which is why our enemies are always compared to Adolf Hitler. John Kerry said that Assad has joined Hitler in using poison gas. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the Holocaust in his case for bombing. But if we are really confronted with such evil, why do we seek merely to “degrade” Assad’s capability before watching him continue his slaughter by means we find less outrageous?

The case for a strike comes down to a matter of national credibility that is more likely to move Henry Kissinger than the public. Voters are not in the mood for any more Middle Eastern entanglements, so the administration is performing before a hostile crowd. It’s always easier to look at the top of your communications game when you are not up against a howling head wind of public opposition.

If he’s not already, the president may soon wonder why, with the Syria vote, he built a pyre, threw his presidency on it and asked Congress to decide whether to light a match. Considering the gravity of the possible defeat before him, any escape hatch can look attractive, even one provided by his secretary of state’s careless words.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail:

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JohnPeterZenger 09/12/13 - 06:41 pm
Rich Lowry? An OpEd? That's detestable.

You can't do better than to provide a soap box for the discredited editor of the National Review?

You indicating your contempt for your readers? Is that it?

Rich Lowry is a regular on Fox News, he guest hosts Hannity at times.

Rich Lowry, who became certifiably apoplectic when Bush lost an election?

Rich Lowry, who was a bit too pervy in his adulation of Sarah Palin?

Rich Lowry, who got as much wrong about the Iraq and Afghanistan charade as there was to get wrong?

You're going to trot out that Rich Lowry to talk about Syria?

(or for that matter, talk about any public policy whatsoever?)

If the Clarion is going to run OpEd features, please run something that, at the very least, has a passing resemblance to actual journalism. There's got to be an old guy or old gal around the office there who understands what that means, right? Check with him or her.

When the Clarion provides a forum for frauds and charlatans it reflects badly on the editor, and the owners, not to mention it does nothing in the way of actually informing it's readers.

Point of fact, it's a disservice to your readers to run such unsubstantiated drivel from a publicly known crazed demagogue.

If we want crazy talk, there's plenty of insanity on Fox News, KSRM and the National Review.

The editors and owners could do a sight better by their readers.

bob99507 09/13/13 - 11:41 am
or we can quote you

or we can quote you

spwright 09/13/13 - 03:42 pm

Friday the 13th ! Now! Now !JPZ You can't say such things about Republican Heros. Fox News, KSRM,

Remember that we live in the RED State of Alaska, Republicans dominate everything ! Governor, House of Representatives & State Senate. Total Control of the Entire State. It drives them Bat _ _ _ _ Crazy that we have a Democrat Senator.

How to Win Friends & Influence People should be on your reading list.
Have a good weekend & enjoy the Sun Shine while it last. SPW

bob99507 09/14/13 - 08:34 pm


Watchman on the Wall
Watchman on the Wall 09/17/13 - 08:33 pm
Lets see now Kerry gaffed and

Lets see now Kerry gaffed and Russia jumped on it, is that right? Or could it be that this supposed gaff was predetermined as part of that Obama Medvediv open mike moment when our President sent word that after the election he would be more flexible to work with Putin? Just wondering here as America steps back from that red line drawn by Obama for the use of wmd's and a promise of actions for doing so. Who used these wmd's on the 1 year anniversary of Obama's red line warning? No one really knows, America says Syria, Russia says the rebels, so who done it and isn't it just a wonderful coincidence this usage on that exact anniversary day? What's it all about Alfie?
All we know for sure still is that someone killed people with wmd's and it could even still lead to a Mideast war spreading like wildfire around the earth. It's not over yet this supposed Russia to the rescue, time will tell that Russia, Iran and others desire to control the middle east and the now rich land of Israel with it's massive oil & gas discoveries more that all of the Arabs have. If I was a guesser I would say that Russia wants the wealth of the land and the power of world leader.
We'll see real soon I feel what's what and who gaffed or not right after Obama went to Russia for the G8 summit and came away with France and one other ally in support for his red line against Syria. Either way there will be no winner and mainly losers of our fellow humans being killed by those that desire control over all.

JohnPeterZenger 09/17/13 - 10:55 pm
If a Republican politician tells lies to start a war,

...the [filtered word]s will call him a great leader and a statesman.

If a Democratic politician candidly speaks the truth, setting up a chance to avoid war,

...[filtered word]s will attempt to portray that truth-telling as a gaffe.

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