Belmont Club

When Summers is Gone

When you can do no wrong, you can do no wrong. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum writes that despite President Obama’s widely advertised debacles “Syria is a very minor blip in the course of US Foreign Policy”.

American credibility has barely been scratched. Our foreign policy is intact; the rest of the world is pretty clear on what it is; and our reluctance to engage in military action one time out of dozens of opportunities simply doesn’t change anyone’s view of American power. If a congressional repudiation of a president happened over and over, that would change some views. But once? Please.

Obama’s leadership chops have likewise barely been scratched.

The same message is sent by Max Fisher at the Washington Post: “Why Obama’s indecisive, wishy-washy Syria strategy is actually working”. The reason for its success, Fisher believes, is because Obama proved himself to be so irrational that his foes are actually treating him like a mentally handicapped monster child.  They both fear him and yet are determined to talk him out of his candy.

In the United States, all we saw was Obama’s inability to commit to a single strategy on Syria, whether strikes or diplomacy, which certainly looked like weakness. But maybe Moscow and Damascus saw it differently, reading it as Obama’s inability to fully back down from strikes. That unpredictability may have put Putin and Assad on the back foot. They didn’t know what Obama was going to do — that doubt is called an “information problem,” because they didn’t have all the information necessary to decide how to act — and were thus forced to tread a bit more cautiously.

More to the point, the wishy-washy U.S. strategy encouraged Russia and Syria to negotiate. It’s easy to imagine both Putin and Assad concluding that because Obama was uncertain, he was also persuadable. And that gave them a big incentive to try to persuade him.

Think Progress dismisses any talk of damage and triumphantly proclaims that polls indicate a plurality sees Obama’s vacillation as “‘leadership and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances,’ rather than ‘weakness'”. Indeed the only danger facing the country, as Mother Jones already pointed out, is the clenched and constipated Republican Congress which alone might have “repudiated” a president and weakened him. But never fear, the comeuppance of those old white guys will be shortly forthcoming since Greg Sargent is reporting that “the big story this fall will be divisions within the GOP”.

Sargent says “high profile pundits such as Albert Hunt and Stuart Rothenberg” who predict the Syria crisis could weaken his ability to handle domestic politics and have repercussions in the debt limit and government shutdown fights are wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary the real story Sargent believes, is that the GOP is on the point of collapse.

GOP obstructionism of Obama’s agenda has in many ways been unprecedented, and the party’s conservative wing is both asymmetrically radical while wielding outsized control over the party, thanks in part to GOP lawmakers’ fear of primary challenges and other structural factors. The main storyline this fall will turn on whether GOP leaders can figure out a way to overcome this, now that it has veered out of their control. Not much else matters.

In that Sargent might be right. But the Democratic Party is not looking too healthy either, as the saga of Larry Summers shows. David Graham at The Atlantic describes how “a Small Team of Democrats defeated Larry Summers—and Obama” by taking advantage of his political weakness. The “small team” consisted of radical feminists out to get him for voicing his doubts over feminine math aptitudes, the left wing and Wall Street factions. The money factions feared he would cut back on easy credit. The result was that this “small team” joined forces to block Obama from getting enough votes in his own party to carry Summers. Facing certain rejection, the former president of Harvard withdrew his nomination.  Graham rhetorically asked whether this were not revolt and political strongarming.

Yet on Syria and now on Summers, Senate and House leaders have shown themselves unwilling or unable to unify their caucus behind the president. … what does this say about the state of discipline in the Democratic Party?

No of course not. How could it be strongarming? Strongarming is merely “dissent” when it’s done by the left. In fact, getting strongarmed is one of Obama’s talents too. Ezra Klein writes that “something very strange has been happening during President Obama’s second term. It’s called dissent. And, unusually for a chief executive, Obama is letting it — even inviting it — to get in his way.”

The other word for finding yourself on the ropes 3 minutes out of every round is letting yourself get pushed around. And that’s a feature in Obama’s leadership style, never a bug. One of the prime examples of pushing around is Ezra Klein’s hectoring piece “Five reasons Obama should name Janet Yellen to chair the Federal Reserve”. Klein basically lectures to the President. He examines the ostensible “reasons” for Summers.

There are two reasons Yellen might not be named to the Federal Reserve. One is that President Obama or his key advisers think she would do a bad job. The other is that the White House feels that nominating her would be a dangerous capitulation — it would show they could be pushed around by liberal Democrats.

Klein then dismisses them and gives 5 reasons why Obama should appoint someone he doesn’t want to appoint.

1) She’d be the most qualified Federal Reserve chair in memory.
2) She got the big calls right.
3) We still need someone who cares — and cares a lot — about unemployment.
4) She’s a consensus pick — at least outside the White House.
5) It’s time to shatter the glass ceiling.

One can’t help wondering why, if the President were so smart, he never thought of Klein’s points himself. Or to what extent Klein wrote those talking points personally and to what degree they were generated by, as he so delicately puts it, “a consensus”?  I have never had a high opinion of Obama’s competence, but I have never been able to do what MSM effortlessly accomplishes: simultaneously extol his brilliance while vilifying him an imbecile at one and the same time. Yet the Democratic Left Wing by its behavior is essentially manifesting what they actually believe: demonstrating how weak Obama has become even while they shout about how ‘strong’ he is.

The Business Insider predicted this would happen before it happened. “The Larry Summers Nomination Could Be In Trouble Thanks To Syria”. And so it proved. Weakness begets weakness. Larry Summers got into trouble because of Syria. Similarly Syria may now be in trouble because of Larry Summers. It’s a shrinking position. President Obama is husbanding his dwindling strength to hold the one perimeter he cares about most — no not the one with Red Lines — but the money perimeter, of course. Obama wants the power to keep on borrowing, debt limit or no and is setting up his final protective fires.

President Barack Obama said in an interview which aired on Sunday that he “will not negotiate” on the debt ceiling with the GOP.

“What I haven’t been willing to negotiate, and I will not negotiate, is on the debt ceiling,” Obama told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an interview on “This Week.” …

“If we continue to set a precedent in which a president … is in a situation in which each time the United States is called upon to pay its bills, the other party can simply sit there and say, ‘Well, we’re not going to put – pay the bills unless you give us … what we want,’ that changes the constitutional structure of this government entirely,” Obama said.

Ready the fougasse. Set the Claymores. Check the machine guns at each end of the squad. In this one fight the whole of the liberal establishment will likely back him. They are therefore burnishing his accomplishments and beating his political chest even as they make off with whatever isn’t nailed down before Obama loses his grip entirely.  It’s fascinating to watch. The Left Wing of the Democratic Party is making hay while the daylight remains But that is a sure indicator their eye is fixed on the setting sun.

Obama is the now become the Black Knight and Tokyo Rose of politics. His injuries however severe are dismissed with the “’tis only a flesh wound” remark.  And as for his foreign setbacks, the media is reprising that hoary Imperial Japanese Navy bulletin about sinking the entire Third Fleet — totalling 31 aircraft carriers, 57 battleships, 133 cruisers and 516 destroyers — then announcing that the pitiful USN remainder was withdrawing in the direction of Japan.

But that tall tale unlikely to work. At least not with Putin and the “small team” that is savaging him.  Already Obama has asked to see the Iranian President to talk about a nuclear settlement. Obama says the Iranian reached out to him. The Iranian says Obama reached out to him. Which do you suppose is true?

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