Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Brilliant Mess

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Brilliant Mess

Article excerpt

The world's oldest constitutional democracy, in all its inconsistent, incoherent cacophony, is there for the world to watch in the standoff with Syria.

After a staggering display of mush, muddle and miscues by the world's lone superpower, a rogue nation appears ready to give up the chemical weapons it supposedly never had. Without a shot being fired. This, of course, is a miserable failure in the eyes of the gaseous class, amateur hour in real time, because, well -- it wasn't planned.

How you can you have 10 days that shook the world when it was never gamed out, move by move, by the pedigreed cardinals of geopolitical intrigue? The answer is in the very thing that my colleague-for-a-day, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, decried in his self-serving opinion piece this week -- American exceptionalism.

It was little noticed, but President Obama made a point of highlighting the special burden of "the world's oldest constitutional democracy." He used those words twice -- once in deciding to give Congress a say on striking Syria, and again in the Tuesday night speech pleading his case.

That democracy, in all its messy, inconsistent, incoherent cacophony, was there for the world to watch in the September standoff. Some of it was pigs-fly-thrilling -- hard-right conservatives joining voices with peacenik libs. Some of it was comic -- John McCain playing poker on his cellphone while Congress mulled a military strike. Much of it was appalling. This what happens when you let 535 elected representatives have an actual role in foreign policy.

The net result, accidental or not, is that Syria is no longer just an American problem. They say they will give up the poison gas that, wink, wink, was never used. The principle, as Obama said, "that with modest effort and risk we stop children from being gassed to death," is there on the table for a world that preferred to look the other way. And, added bonus: the neocon warriors are gone, homeless in both parties. All of this is a hugely positive leap from where we were a week, a month, or a year ago.

But outcomes don't really matter to those obsessed by who won and who lost, those who see all politics as up-and-down nonsense instead of a clash of ideas with real consequences. So this past week has to be cast in the tired terms of the daily struggle for sound-bite supremacy. It's a debacle. A blunder. A humiliation. "This rudderless diplomacy," said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican Party, "has embarrassed America on the world stage."

You want embarrassment? Just consider some of the public statements of Republicans in the last two weeks. The worst stunt was when three of the most empty-head members of Congress, Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert and Steve King, went to Egypt to praise a military coup against an elected democratic regime. …

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