Thursday, May 29, 2014


Zurich striker Loris Benito copes with a marten on the field, March 2013. Photo by Marcel Bieri.
So I'm listening to the Steve Inskeep interview of the president on foreign policy this morning, basically on the above-the-fold wars, in Ukraine and Syria, and it sounds to me, to tell the truth, as if he's waffling—waffling and maybe blustering a bit, using a lot of words like "robust" and "success", but the thing is: he's not arguing with me.

Or rather, he's not arguing against me; the imaginary person he's debating is the one represented in Inskeep's questions, who's worried or affects to be worried [jump]
about American "weakness", and the question whether "we" can, as we think we did in the past, make the leadership of other countries do what "we" want.

The slaughter in Syria continues, and the "moderate opposition" we've attached our hopes to doesn't look like much of a player. The Russian Federation has annexed Crimea, meaning that they've already scored a net gain in territory, opening a lead in the game, I guess, that they will maintain to the final whistle, except for the fact of its being not a game, but real life, that Ukrainians and not Americans are obliged to live, and there's no inevitable final whistle for that except when our species extinguishes itself, or the sun fails if we survive that long. Obama can't tell his imaginary interlocutor how stupid the premises are, because the interlocutor just would not be able to understand.

He takes his language from the people he's arguing with, in the usual quixotic attempt to find a position they can understand, which is not going to work of course, just keep the discussion on the same idiotic 1950s kind of plane, but the reason he's not arguing with me is that he's on my side, in his maddeningly gradualist way; he's always looking for ways in which the US can take a peaceful approach, but he's only looking for the ones that won't, if you know what I mean, give Fred Hiatt and the Kagans a heart attack. I of course don't give a fuck about Fred Hiatt and it's very hard for me to accept this, but Obama's ability to act really depends on his ability to keep these fools in check.

Later, on what he hopes to bequeath to the next president by way of a to-do list, he's talking about open issues in places like Iran, Israel-Palestine, Guantánamo, and I'm reminded of something I wrote once about the unconventionality of his style; the way the usual sports metaphors don't apply because they come from the wrong sports. To the extent he's playing a game at all it's not a digital game like football, where every moment takes place inside a formally constructed play in which one team is all defense and the other all offense (to say nothing of his own silly baseball metaphor), but an analogue one like soccer, where the situation on the field is continuously changing and evolving, and you can't on the whole make set-piece plays but must work all the time to create chances inside the fluidity. Success, there, is keeping things open as long as they're not resolved.

And drones and surveillance: talking about trying to ensure privacy rights "not just for Americans but people around the world." He didn't have to bring in foreigners there, and I like that. He's not waffling here at all, though he's not being at all explicit either, he's claiming to have made progress in these matters and in the prisoner population in Guantánamo, which I might be inclined to dispute, but there you go; here he is arguing with me, and doing it in an entirely different way: acknowledging the justice of my demands and asserting, right or wrong, that he's doing his best.
Alex Morgan, in an unidentified moment. Via.

On reading the Times analysis of the West Point speech, by Peter Baker, I think I've pretty much got it right:
Mr. Obama has become increasingly convinced that while the United States must play a vital role beyond its borders, it should avoid getting dragged into the quicksand of international crises that have trapped some of his predecessors. It is time for an end to what he called “a long season of war.”
There's even an apposite quote from a Kagan (Robert) on the subject of interlocution:
Mr. Kagan said this was “a more narrow definition of our national interest than the post-World War II tradition” and added that he thought Mr. Obama had come to the conclusion that it fits the public mood. “He’s been in a kind of dialogue with the American people,” Mr. Kagan said, “and I think he’s concluded that they would be happy if he never used force.”

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