Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Syria and the Strange Blessings of Chaos

I'll admit it.  I didn't watch the speech.  I rarely watch speeches, or speeches responding to speeches, which is a peculiar thing for someone who gets up and talks in front of folks on a weekly basis.  Perhaps it was all those years of dutifully watching State of the Union Addresses, which have soured me on political yammering.  Plus, I'm in the thicket of reading World War Z, and I'm not about to put down a page turner to listen to someone telling me something I already know.

In reading this morning's summations, Obama said, well, what I'd thought he was going to say.  My Fellow Americans.  Horror.  Pursue all options.  The strike is on the table.  International control of chemical weapons might stay our hand. For now. Justice, responsibility, international community.  God Bless America.

Honestly, though, in the mess that Syria continues to be, what has caught my attention the last day or so has been the peculiar way in which a potential resolution has manifested itself.   As this crisis has unfolded, one consistent theme has been the frustratingly amorphous response from the United States.

Here inside the Beltway, there was about a week of talking head handwringing about the scattershot and vacillating "messaging" from the Administration.  Where do we stand?  What's going on?  We seem to be going to war, and yet there seem to be a dozen different perspectives coming out of the White House.  It was maddeningly chaotic, disorganized, and seemingly at odds with itself.

This was perhaps most frustrating to Republicans, who found themselves without a clear thing to stand in opposition to.  How can you reflexively disagree with someone if they won't clearly tell you what it is that you don't believe?

And yet it had struck me as a frustrating but peculiarly appropriate response.  In times where the response is obvious and the path was evident, clarity and decisiveness is vital.  But this was not one of those times.  Faced with a situation with no clear outcome and no apparent "good" path, bold certitude is the response of a fool.  "I really have no idea of the implications of what I'm doing, but I'm going to commit to it completely" may appeal to folks who view the universe in binary terms, but nine hundred and ninety two point three seven five times out of a thousand that just takes you deeper into the [excrement].  On the side of that path lie the ruins of countless relationships, businesses, and nations.

So things moved slowly and circuitously, and direction seemed hard to discern.  The threat of a strike was clearly there, but the path towards it seemed unclear.  When?  How?  Huh?

Then, out of a vacillating thicket of seemingly contradictory policy statements, there came one that opened up a possible out for Assad.  Turn over your chemical weapons to international authorities, and this could be averted.   Suddenly, a brokered deal seems possible.  America's military engagement may yet be averted, and the core goal...preventing the use of chemical weapons...may be preserved.

"May."  It's not a sure thing.  Not by a long shot.  Syria is still a mess, and will be even if their sarin is secured by the UN.

But this week, there is suddenly an opening that was not there last week.   From a cloud of terrible options, a better path seems to have appeared.

And the strange irony is that in this instance, a seemingly chaotic response to a chaotic situation seems to have created the potential for order.