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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s critics are having a really hard time finding the way to clearly and decisively criticize whatever he does. Here’s a helpful suggestion:

Greg Sargent raises an important question today about the GOP and mainstream commentator criticism of Obama on Syria:

I continue to be puzzled by an enormous imbalance we’ve seen in much of the commentary — from neutral analysts and Republican lawmakers alike — about Obama’s handling of Syria. On the one hand, the basic take has been that Obama’s handling of the process has shown him to be weak and inconsistent. He changed his mind on whether to go to Congress….He changed his mind again on using military force, instead opting to pursue a diplomatic solution when the possibility presented itself…
[But] Regardless of motive, wasn’t going to Congress the right thing to do, and wasn’t that preferable to him bombing without Congress?…Many of these critics won’t say whether they think exploring the possibility of a diplomatic solution was the right thing to do given that this possibility arose. This is particularly jarring when it comes from those who also say they can’t support war.
…Ultimately what this whole dodge comes down to is that one can’t admit to thinking that going to Congress and pursuing a diplomatic solution are the right goals for Obama to pursue, without undermining one’s ability to criticize Obama for betraying abstract qualities like firmness and consistency we all know a president is “supposed” to possess…. After all, if Obama’s changes of mind have now pointed him towards goals you agree with, how was changing course a bad thing?

In order to clarify their position, it has now clearly become vital that Obama’s critics unite behind a clear joint statement of their perspective. As an attempt to assist them in this effort, I am happy to propose the following public statement for their consideration:

As Republican and mainstream media critics of the president’s actions in the current crisis with Syria, we believe that there are only two acceptable paths that Obama might properly have followed. On the one hand, he could have pushed ahead against both military-diplomatic advice and public opinion to launch a military strike of sufficient size and lethality to antagonize world opinion without achieving a clear and unambiguous military objective. On the other hand, he could have timidly and humiliatingly backed down from his insistence that the use of chemical weapons was unacceptable and meekly renounced any possible military response.
In either of these cases he would have provided Congress and the American people with the clear and unequivocal approach that they so profoundly deserved – approaches that would have demonstrated that he was either (a) a bumbling military-strategic amateur patently unsuited to the role of commander-in-chief or (b) a weak-kneed crypto-pacifist clearly unable to inspire respect from the international community.
As concerned Republicans and mainstream political analysts, we are outraged that Obama has refused to embrace either one of these two clear and straightforward approaches and has chosen instead to dramatically revise his strategy and approach on a nearly day-to-day basis as events have unfolded. We are particularly outraged that he is attempting by this subterfuge to achieve limited but useful diplomatic goals without either clearly foreswearing any future military action or rejecting any and all possible willingness to negotiate. This not only obscures the fundamental issues at stake but denies those Americans who disagree with him a clear basis on which to emphatically condemn his actions —regardless of what those actions might be.
We therefore call upon president Obama to decisively and unambiguously embrace one of the two options we have presented as the only proper and responsible way to provide the American people with a firm basis on which to bitterly criticize whatever approach he selects. We categorically reject the view that pragmatism and flexibility are characteristics the American people should be forced to tolerate in a Democratic president in a time of grave international crisis.

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