Friday, September 6, 2013

Syria, Eric Black & Liberal Agonistes

I haven't met Eric Black, a writer at MinnPost, but hope to at some point; possibly next year's MinnPost Roast when I expect a fair number of republicans (finally!) take up MinnPost's standing offer to participate in their yearly festivity. I do read him although not always closely depending upon his choice of subject matter. I get the sense that he is well thought of in the liberal Twin Cities community and, although our political views are rather different, haven't found him particularly strident or obnoxious. Both sides of the aisle could use more of this approach. For my conservative readers, I would characterize his writing as straightforward and thoughtful from, admittedly, the wrong point of view.

I bring him up in order to reflect on a larger point, using him in the process in what I hope is a good natured way: the confusion and division of the left with respect to President Obama's disastrous foreign policy leadership. You won't find much mainstream media discussion about it because, well, it's embarrassing even to them. You can find, however, if you look, reporting on the nation's foreign policy elite and they are appalled, mortified, gobsmacked, pick a word. After Obama's laughable performance before the Swedish media in which he claimed he didn't lay down a red line with respect to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, our faculty president President went on to St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit, where the United States continued to be shamed before the world.

What about closer to home? I thought. Enter Eric Black's recent writings on Syria, of which there are three. They seem to me to distill perfectly the discomfort in addressing the current mess directly and, tellingly to me at least, seek not to describe current events so much as to prescribe how (liberals) should think about them. Their collectivist impulse, again, of which our friends on the left are genuinely unaware.

In his first piece, not under discussion here, Black refers fretting liberals to the never-to-be-trusted John Judis at The New Republic. Judis's article is titled "Not Sure How To Feel About Syria?" Feel? I suppose liberals don't think very often because they're not particularly good at it, so feelings are the way to go because how can a feeling be wrong? Besides, the stronger the feeling the better, more earnest the liberal. Let's all bike over to Kingfield Farmers Market now. Naturally, Judis, as Black points out, doesn't take a position on what Obama should do about Syria. He feels deeply about it, though!

Black's most recent article is titled "Some bigger questions beyond who wins or loses the vote on Syria." At the outset, Black is unable to say "Obama," only an unidentified "who." There is no other "who" and that's the problem. Obama only will win or lose the Congressional vote on authorizing military force in Syria. It's remarkable, really, this resistance to holding him accountable. Then again, once started there would be no end to totaling up this president's failures. Can't have that.

"This Syria thing is a big, complicated deal" is how he starts. Well, ok then, commence chin-pulling. How did it get to be a big, complicated deal? He won't tell us.

He does tell his, presumably fellow-liberal readers, how to think about it. In my experience, once told how to think about any given issue, liberals do so until the grave. They believe this a virtue and tend to give each other awards for it, be it in popular culture, literature or junk science.

Perhaps you have to be a conservative to appreciate how breathtaking it is to read "[w]atch out for the mainstream media narrative." Do go on, Eric, we're all ears. It took Syria and the hash of the Obama presidency to bring you to this epiphany? Any port in a storm.

He goes on to speak about the "objectivity paradigm," whatever that is, as well as to take a swipe at neoconservatives who, possibly he hadn't noticed, haven't been in charge for five years now. He does make the excellent point that "[t]his [debate over Syria] is a partisan stereotype scrambler and that is healthy." I couldn't agree more but, unfortunately, he leaves it at that. Exploring further why it is and what it may mean would have been a vein worth mining further. Here's hoping he returns to it in his future writing.

He goes on to engage in a Tevya "on the one hand, on the other" analysis in reviewing the evidence as to whether the Assad regime actually used chemical weapons. In getting to his as-of-now-he'd-vote-no conclusion, he takes pains to distinguish Syria from Iraq. "Bush was looking for an excuse to start that war" is how he puts it. He's usually more thoughtful, less objectively stupid, than this but remember: liberals are desperate to figure out what to do with this president without saying Obama is utterly incompetent in the job. That Syria is per se different from Iraq is a necessary lie for liberals. I understand; conservatives, of course, would just accuse them of hypocrisy and they'd be right.

Ultimately, one can feel the discomfort, Black says he agrees with Obama that if we don't act then the United States sends a message that using chemical weapons is ok. I searched but found no record of Eric Black writing anywhere when the world knew Saddam Hussein gassed fifty thousand or more Kurds that we had to respond militarily. He's trying to tell other liberals how to think themselves out of the box Obama has put them in; consistency has nothing to do with that.

Finally, toward the end of his piece there is this curious bit of weapons-grade incoherence:

"So, if a brief, relatively non-lethal show of U.S. force to punish Syria and diminish its capability for future uses of chemical weapons could occur with the likely effect of significantly buttressing the international prohibition on such weapons, without bringing on a parade of horrible unintended consequences, I think I would vote yes."

Not one of those series of delicate conditions, layered one upon the other (I counted six), obtain in the real world. Now what, Eric? Such is the thinking of people who believe recycling their bourgeois trash saves the planet. To have the right intent vouchsafes them from recognizing the disastrous outcomes their feel-good policies cause. It's illustrative of the tentativeness which liberals approach the world as it is, always having to condition any actual decision making with an insufferable welter of platitudes and magic thinking. Moral clarity, for liberals, is hard, almost wrong. They had no idea whatsoever what then Cardinal Ratzinger meant when he referred, in his homily at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, to "the dictatorship of relativity." None.

Critical thinking is wholly missing from Black's musings on Syria. Any honest assessment would justly excoriate a stunningly incompetent president but this one is of the wrong skin color and party for him to do so. Obama has no credibility on the world stage and is seen as feckless and over his head by most foreign leaders. Establishment Washington is aghast at his complete lack of leadership. Black can't admit that, just can't get that real, as it were. Conservatives understand; we see such paralysis of truth daily from our friends on the left.

In this, it seems to me, Black represents the liberal condition, the liberal dilemma, throughout the nation. I'll be interested to see if he can analyze the coming events with a bit more clarity and even-handedness. I hope he avoids the "Obama lost the House vote because of hateful republicans" or the "this mess in Syria wouldn't have happened if House republican war mongerers had been shut down."

In either event, Black won't blame Obama. Obama doesn't blame Obama. Why should his acolytes?

Black's piece mentioned above can be read here.

He has two other pieces which predate that one and which can be read here and here.


jerrye92002 said...

nice demolition work, and the right target. Obama couldn't be trusted to carry out any military mission, especially if it was to accomplish something useful. This is all about him saving face for shooting off his big mouth.

Lisa said...

Obama could be the accelerator that leads to America's divorce. Syria is just one of many examples. Those of you in Minnesota, especially the Strange Uncharted Mountains area, might be interested in this book.