Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Elsewhere/L'Shana Tova

L'Shana Tova to everyone who is celebrating the holiday. And with that, I'm off for two days. First Rosh Hashanah with the oldest daughter off at college....ah well. Weekend posting should be according to regular schedule, and in the meantime I should have a column or two showing up in the usual places. At least if I get the edits done before sundown.

Meanwhile, a few things that I've done elsewhere this week:

I said that time is a luxury the House does have; everyone should stop accepting the idea that the nine legislative days they have scheduled this month is some sort of external constraint.

The "McCain Docrtrine" (that Congress should never turn down a president who wants war) is anti-constitutional nonsense.

It's important to blame Congress, not presidents, for "presidential overreach" on war powers. Congress is perfectly capable of restrain presidents; if they don't, that's on them, not on the White House.

And I stopped short of a "ignore those polls" on Syria, but I did advise extreme caution in using them to predict future opinion.


  1. Here's my submissions for today's "Read Stuff, You Should"

    1. Dan Amira on who members of Congress follow on Twitter:

    2. The Washington Post has a handy Syria vote counter, looks a lot easier for Obama in the Senate than the House:

  2. L'Shana tova, Jonathan.

  3. This Syria stuff is complicated in a way that defies the modern partisan mediasphere. I heard a great example on the Rush Limbaugh show. Limbaugh was pushing the partisan argument that the gas attack was actually from the rebels, following the Russian report and the NYT article about what a bunch of savages the rebels are.

    My point is not "hah hah" Limbaugh but rather that an easily marketable meme (the rebels actually did it) doesn't much withstand scrutiny. After all, the innocent victims of this attack were the mothers and wives and kids of rebels.

    Which is not to say its impossible that the rebels did such a thing! Its just hard to imagine how they settled on a specific attack. You might imagine that rag-tag crew murdering their own to foster sympathy from the dupe Americans - but which ones? Ahmad in south central Damascus thinks they should attack southeast Damascus, and Raoul in SE Damascus says no way, only SW Damascus will do, which prompts Tariq in SW Damascus to say its South Central or nothing!

    I mean, you can imagine someone coming up with such a sacrificial plot...but how would they ever agree on whose neighborhood would take that collateral pain?

    Which is not to pick on Republicans in a partisan way, but rather that polls are eliciting responses that work within a partisan context and have, perhaps, only a fleeting relationship with the truth. Which, of course, makes them inherently suspicious, to the extent these sorts of things generally get more transparent over time.

    1. Another big question, to me at least, is the solidity of the opinion opposing strikes in Syria. As far as I can tell there are no major organized interests backing the opposition even it is the majority of public opinion. But there are influential groups supporting intervention, for example AIPAC is planing a full court press supporting intervention starting Monday. It will be interesting to see what happens considering there is normally so little daylight between AIPAC and most Republicans, and Democrats for that matter.

    2. I have to agree with long walk. There are certainly partisan motivations at play, but the loud and unequivocal voice of the people is what's driving things. I heard a talking head on CNN today say, without irony, that Congressmen are torn between "their constituents and their President." If we succeed in stopping this, it will go a long way towards restoring to Congress its Constitutional role to declare war.

      As for Jonathan's contention that "Congress is perfectly capable of restrain presidents..." Well, I agree, but the White House claims to retain the power to begin war with Syria even if Congress votes not to. Now, it seems very unlikely that the President would actually do this. So a vote against the war would set a precedent that would make it difficult for the White House to claim (or exercise) such an extra-constitutional war-making power in the future. It would also reinforce the public's expectation that Congress will truly act as the servant of the people and not the President (rather against the will of most Congressmen, I might add). All of this could significantly shift the impetus for committing us to war away from the President.

    3. CSH,I don't believe the rebels were responsible for the gas attack, but if they were, I don't think the conversation would have been as you imagine. The thing to keep in mind is that there is not one rebel group, but many (up to 1,200, in fact, if you include every local militia). These rebel groups do not all view each other as being on the same side even if they are all against Assad. If they succeed in overthrowing Assad, then I suspect it will be a fairly short time before they're fighting each other over who will control post-Assad Syria, much as the fighting in Iraq has been largely between Sunni and Shiite militias over who will call the shots in post-Hussein Iraq. The rebels know this--some of the fighting has already occurred--so if the rebels did it, they probably weren't gassing "their own" and blaming Assad, but rather gassing "those other rebels" that they'll eventually be fighting anyhow and blaming Assad. But, as I said, I think Assad did it.

    4. Scott, I take your point, the possibility of the gas attack as a "South Carolina threatens to secede from the Confederacy" moment. I'm quite certain you are correct about the mostly-Sunni fighting that will go on for control of Syria post-Assad.

      But they have to get rid of Assad first, no? However significant their hatred for one another, sect #1 gassing sect #2's women and children should make whatever cooperation is required to oust Assad more difficult.

      Not an impossible scenario. But quite unlikely, it does seem to me.

    5. Fair enough. I'm not saying the rebels did it, only that it could have gone this way if they did. On the other hand, sect #1 would have told sect #2 (as well as the outside world) that Assad did it.

    6. Can sect #1 realistically commit such an atrocity without sect #2 knowing from whence it came? I honestly don't know. If the answer is yes, I certainly concede your point.


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