Sunday, August 16, 2015

White House Fool Report: Flashback to 2013

Ubungo Plaza Symbion Power Plant in Tanzania in July. The ball is a sOccket, which collects the kinetic energy expended in playing with it, and can then be used to charge an LED. Image via PopSugar.
Yesterday Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly was summarizing Obama's diplomatic technique as it emerges from recent interviews he's given to Max Fisher, David Remnick, and Thomas "Mystax Mirabilis" Friedman:
Getting your paragraph right by staying true to your North Star, combined with the self-confidence to take calculated risks, creates openings that can lead to transformative change.
Decades from now we’ll be bearing the fruit of openings this President has made possible with that kind of wisdom.
Today she takes up the same theme with particular reference to the ongoing progress reported in last week's Times that may be leading to a resolution of the Syrian conflicts through rapprochements with Russia and Iran and the development of a pressure on Bashar al-Assad that Assad won't be able to resist (it won't push him, at least not immediately, out of government).

It strikes me that I had some ideas along these lines in something I wrote a couple of years ago about his governing style in general (applied to the then big issues of the Syria "Red Line" maneuvers and the nomination of a new Fed chair), suggesting it ought to be analogized to soccer rather than NFL football:
In soccer, nobody is an exclusively offensive player, or exclusively defensive either (even the goalkeeper puts the ball into play). Opportunities to score are extremely rare, and the players spend most of their time trying vainly to create them while preventing the opposition from doing the same. Opportunities for a set-piece score are rarer still; while the set-piece plays are lovely to watch and fascinating in the way they alter the situation, they generally fail, and most goals are driven through a hole in the configuration that just appears, seen by no one but the striker, and will disappear again almost instantly if it isn't caught: like the chance to shoot a coffee cup off the roof of someone's car from a train window. In football, if the commentator says, "Now for the field goal attempt," odds are about one to one that there will be a field goal attempt after the commercial break. In soccer, any such prediction would be as foolish as Dylan Byers.

It would be wrong to say that President Obama is playing 11-dimensional soccer; it would be more accurate to say he is playing an undetermined number of simultaneous soccer games taking place on a single field. Or three or four fields at most. He needs to set up the situations without knowing exactly what he is going to do with them when the time is ripe.
It was a pretty good piece! And clever in the discussion of Syria policy back then to foresee how it might reverberate into the kind of huge development in Iran that we have just been seeing, and which we now see may echo back to Syria.

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