Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

Oh, frabjous day!  It would appear that Ms. Collins is back from book leave.  Mr. Blow says “Hillary is Hobbling, For Now,” and that the media, and possibly the public, loathes coasting. Trajectory makes a better story. And for Clinton, the only available trajectory was down.  Mr. Cohen, in “Obama’s Syrian Nightmare,” opines that Syria is the question the Obama doctrine must answer if it is not to be reduced to the point of meaninglessness.  Mr. Kristof says “Compassion for Refugees Isn’t Enough,” and that unless we address the war in Syria, the exodus will grow.  Ms. Collins offers us “A Presidential Primary Cheat Sheet,” and says let’s recap what the Republicans have been up to.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I must say that I’m starting to feel bad for Hillary Clinton. There is a sense surrounding her candidacy of building doom and imminent disaster.

She just can’t seem to shake the email controversy and the idea that the issue raises — or raises again — some kind of character flaw.

In an interview on Tuesday with ABC News’ David Muir, Clinton finally apologized for her handling of the controversy saying, “I’m sorry about that.” She continued, “I take responsibility and I’m trying to be as transparent as I possibly can.”

But every month, every week, every news cycle that the media focus is on the way Clinton is addressing the issue is a bad day for her, regardless of what she says or does about it.

And that is part of the problem. This controversy isn’t simply about Clinton. It’s as much about media as it is about her. Indeed, this presidential election cycle is particularly curious in the way that the media has made some candidates and damaged others.

I don’t find the controversy to be the scandal others have made it out to be, but that doesn’t seem to matter now. It is an issue with a life of its own.

There seems to me a gravitational pull of media desire that wants, on some level, to see her crash and burn. Twice snubbed. The “queen” goes down, again.

The media, and possibly even the public, loathes coasting. Trajectory, either up or down, makes a better story. Since Clinton started with such high expectations, the only trajectory available to her — and to those covering her — was down.

Now she can’t seem to stop the slide. She simply can’t direct the narrative away from the email and toward her policies. And this constant chatter about things other than her vision for the future and the suggestion that she is not being fully forthcoming is hurting her in the polls.

Clinton’s numbers continue to fall, and last month, when people were asked in a Quinnipiac University poll “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Hillary Clinton?” the top three responses were liar, dishonest and untrustworthy. Ouch!

But in addition to the media’s salivating for her failure, Clinton hasn’t really done herself any favors. Her cloistered, overprotective approach only creates a void that will be filled by something. It can often feel as if she is hiding herself, or something about herself, and that doesn’t read well.

Her advisers seemed to acknowledge as much in a story published by The New York Times this week:

“In extensive interviews by telephone and at their Brooklyn headquarters last week, Mrs. Clinton’s strategists acknowledged missteps — such as their slow response to questions about her email practices — and promised that this fall the public would see the sides of Mrs. Clinton that are often obscured by the noise and distractions of modern campaigning.”

Furthermore, it is hard to know what the unifying message of the Clinton campaign is. Is there a bumper sticker message? If there is, I don’t know it.

A close primary rival in the polls, Bernie Sanders, who is gaining on Clinton in Iowa and has overtaken her in New Hampshire, has such a message: He’s saying to the über rich, “You can’t have it all.” (It should be noted that many of Sanders’s supporters are also complaining about media coverage, suggesting that Sanders hasn’t received his fair share.)

Joe Biden, who is considering jumping into the race, must be looking at all of this and feeling a hand on his back. What if Clinton completely collapses? If Bernie Sanders were the Democratic nominee, could a man who identifies as a “democratic socialist” win the general election, even if people basically liked his policies?

Anything is possible, especially when you look at the disaster unfolding on the Republican side, but I assume that the Democratic establishment is getting increasingly nervous.

Clinton is attempting to reboot her campaign, but even that carries with it the mild taint of desperation. As David A. Graham put it in The Atlantic: “It’s a bad sign when your presidential campaign needs a reboot. It’s a worse sign when your advisers announce that reboot publicly.”

It’s not clear to me how this story ends other than how it appears it wants to end: badly.

The only things working in Clinton’s favor at this point are the fact that it is still incredibly early in the election cycle — and that the only thing the media likes more than a fall from grace story is a comeback story.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Syria will be the biggest blot on the Obama presidency, a debacle of staggering proportions. For more than four years now, the war has festered. A country has been destroyed, four million Syrians are refugees, Islamic State has moved into the vacuum and President Bashar al-Assad still drops barrel bombs whose shrapnel and chlorine rip women and children to shreds.

For a long time, those who fled waited in the neighborhood. They wanted to go home. They filled camps in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon. When it became clear even to them that “home” no longer existed, nothing could stop them in their desperate flight toward the perceived security of Europe. The refugee crisis is the chronicle of a disaster foretold.

The refugees do not care what “Christian” Europe thinks. They are beyond caring about Europe’s hang-ups or illusions. They want their children to live. In their homeland, more than 200,000 people have been killed. Statistics numb, but less so when you know the dead. This evisceration of a state is a consequence of many things, among them Western inaction.

American interventionism can have terrible consequences, as the Iraq war has demonstrated. But American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates. Not doing something is no less of a decision than doing it. The pendulum swings endlessly between interventionism and retrenchment because the United States is hard-wired to the notion that it can make the world a better place. Looking inward for long is a non-option for a nation that is also a universal idea. Every major conflict poses the question of how far America should get involved.

President Obama has tried to claw back American overreach after the wars without victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has responded to a mood of national weariness with foreign adventure (although Americans have not been very happy with Obama’s pivot to prudence). He has tried better to align American power with what is, in his perception, America’s limited ability to make a difference on its own at a time of growing interdependence. One definition of the Obama doctrine came from the president last year when he declared: “It avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.” Or, more succinctly, “Don’t do stupid stuff.”

But that’s not enough, as Syria demonstrates. President Obama has important foreign policy achievements, including breakthrough agreements with Iran and Cuba that took courage and persistence. (How those breakthroughs will play out remains to be seen, but they constitute a victory over sterile confrontation.) Elsewhere, however, he has undersold American power. In Syria and Libya he has washed his hands of conflicts that the United States could not turn its back on. Such negligence comes back to bite America, as its experience in Afghanistan since the 1980s has shown. Nobody loves a vacuum like a jihadi. And nobody likes American wobbliness like Vladimir Putin.

In 2011, Obama said, “The time has come for President Assad to step aside.” At that time, as events have shown, the president had no policy in place to achieve that objective and no will to forge such a policy. His words were of a grave irresponsibility.

In 2013, with France poised to join the United States in military strikes on Syria, Obama walked away at the last minute from upholding his “red line” on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. In so doing, he reinforced Assad, reinforced Putin, declined to change the course of the Syrian war, and diminished America’s word in the world — setbacks of far greater significance than ridding Syria of chemical weapons. This was a mistake.

Yes, China and Russia have consistently obstructed concerted action on Syria in the United Nations Security Council. Yes, the shifting array of forces and interests in Syria has been a challenge to policy. Yes, even limited intervention had its dangers. But, no! Such ruination was not an inevitable outcome.

At multiple stages, if Obama could have mustered the will, the belief in American power, there were options. The Syrian aircraft dropping those barrel bombs could have been taken out. A safe area for refugees might have been created. Arming the rebels early and massively might have changed the course of the war. Counterfactuals, of course, don’t carry much weight. We will never know. We only know the facts of the Syrian nightmare now seeping, in various forms, into the West. Syria, broken, will be the rift that keeps on giving.

In Libya, Obama bombed and abandoned. In Afghanistan, Obama surged and retreated. In Syria, Obama talked and wavered. He has been comfortable with the pinpoint use of force — the killing of Osama bin Laden for example — but uncomfortable with American military power.

Syria is the question the Obama doctrine must answer if it is not to be deemed modest to the point of meaninglessness.

Yeah — let’s drop some more bombs and shoot down some planes.  And arm, MASSIVELY.  What could POSSIBLY go wrong?  (And for what it’s worth, it’s Bush’s nightmare since he’s the prime cause for ISIS.)  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Bravo to Pope Francis, Angela Merkel and so many ordinary Germans and Austrians who have welcomed refugees into their lands. Kudos to those American politicians acknowledging that we should accept more Syrian refugees — the U.S. has admitted only 1,500 since the war started four years ago, which is pathetic.

If you have a heart, you’re moved by the refugees. But if you have a head, you also know that welcoming them in Germany won’t resolve the crisis.

There are 60 million people displaced worldwide, and more will now be willing to board flimsy boats to cross the sea.

“The trickle of refugees is only going to get bigger,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “Once people see that refugees are going to be taken in by the West, they’re going to stampede. This problem is going to metastasize.”

Unless we’re careful, the upshot could be more drowned toddlers.

As we inadvertently boost this tide of refugees, beneficiaries will include human smugglers and skinheads, neo-Nazis and far-right xenophobic politicians. An anti-immigrant party now leads the polls in Sweden, and Germany has reported 340 attacks on asylum seekers, including an apparent arson this week at a home sheltering them.

So by all means let’s respond with compassion to the refugees (not as jerks, as Hungarian officials have). But above all, let’s address the crisis at its roots, particularly in the Middle East.

One essential step is to improve conditions for the 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The World Food Program was just forced to cut 229,000 refugees in Jordan off food rations because it ran out of money, and if the world won’t pay for refugees to eat in Jordan, it will have to feed them in the West.

Then there’s the far more difficult task of trying to make Syria habitable again.

This may be impossible, but let’s be clear: As things stand, we’re on a trajectory for Syria to become even more horrific than it is now. Many experts expect the war to drag on for years, kill hundreds of thousands more people, and lead to an exodus of millions more refugees. We’re likely to see street-to-street fighting soon in Damascus, lifting the suffering and emigration to a new level.

I’m shaken by pleas I’ve seen from women in the besieged Syrian city of Zabadani, which for months has been surrounded by forces supporting the government. They fear that if the government forces take Zabadani, there will be massacres.

So hundreds of women in Zabadani have signed a statement calling for a cease-fire, international protection and evacuation of the wounded. They bravely use their names, despite the risk that they will be murdered or raped if the city falls.

“I’ve never been so depressed,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst and author of a book on Syria. “There were options early on. But the options today are all costlier, riskier and come with lower returns.”

Yet as long as we’re talking about Syrian dysfunction, let’s also note European and American dysfunction. The Obama administration hasrepeatedly miscalculated on Syria and underestimated the problem, even as the crisis has steadily worsened. And some leading Republicans want to send in troops to confront the Islamic State (think Iraq redux).

The least bad option today is to create a no-fly zone in the south of Syria. This could be done on a shoestring, enforced by U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean firing missiles, without ground troops.

That would end barrel bombings. Just as important, the no-fly zone would create leverage to pressure the Syrian regime — and its Russian and Iranian backers — to negotiate.

“If they can’t use their aircraft, the day after they will know they can’t survive, and that will bring them to the table,” said Reza Afshar, a former British diplomat who now advises the Syrian opposition through his group, Independent Diplomat.

The aim of the talks, with no preconditions on either side, would be a cease-fire with a tweaking of boundary lines.

Look, this would be ugly. It would amount to a de facto partition of Syria and the partial survival of the regime, perhaps with a new Alawite general replacing President Bashar al-Assad. Yet otherwise we may be standing by as the slaughter spirals toward genocide.

Robert Ford, a former American ambassador to Syria who resigned because he found the Obama administration’s Syria policy indefensible, says a negotiation, even if successful, might drag on for two years as the carnage continued. Still, that’s better than the alternatives.

“It’s irresponsible to throw up our hands and say there’s nothing that can be done,” he added. “Then, almost certainly things will get worse.”

And now let’s welcome Ms. Collins back from book leave:

The presidential campaign is getting serious, people. Just four months to the Iowa caucuses! You’re supposed to be concerned citizens, and your friends are going to expect you to update them regularly. If you can’t, be prepared to take an active part in discussions about the Tom Brady divorce rumors.

Today, the Republicans. Things we learned this summer about Jeb Bush:

■ His first name is actually John. And there is certainly nothing wrong with “John Bush,” except that it sounds like something on a fake ID card.

■ He seems wounded that Donald Trump keeps saying he’s boring. At one Republican meeting he promised to “unleash the American animal spirits.”

■ He’s come up with a way to criticize George W. without mentioning Iraq. “He should have brought the hammer down on the Republicans when they were spending way too much,” he told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show.” This presumably refers to a new entitlement — much hated by fiscal conservatives — that extended Medicare coverage to prescription drugs. Do you think John Bush is going to campaign on repealing it? As a political tactic it’s about as promising as Chris Christie’s idea that he could reboot his campaign by vowing to cut back on Social Security.

Ben Carson has been surging! It’s easy to understand his popularity. He has a compelling life story about raising himself up from poverty to become a brain surgeon, and he was the least needy-looking candidate in the first Republican debate. On the other side, it is kind of unnerving that he doesn’t believe in evolution. Most Republican candidates try to fudge that one, by changing the subject or saying something like “I am not a scientist.” But Carson really doesn’t believe in evolution. And he is, you know, a scientist.

On Wednesday Donald Trump assured a rally in Washington that his experience in marketing luxury real estate would make him a brilliant international diplomat. Meanwhile, a forthcoming biography reveals that Trump, who energetically avoided the Vietnam draft, “felt that I was in the military in the true sense” because his parents once sent him to a military boarding school. Coming soon: Trump explains that he understands the suffering of the Syrian refugees because of his experience firing people on reality TV.

Carly Fiorina is another outsider, running on her career as a C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 corporation. It is true that she was fired after a disastrous performance, but nobody’s perfect. Fiorina was the star of the backup debate in August, besting nationally known figures like Jim Gilmore, the former governor of … a state. Her performance was so outstanding that she is set to be promoted to the top-dog debate next week. But nobody is being demoted! Obviously CNN understands that what the nation really needs this September is an 11-person argument.

Pop Quiz: Who should CNN throw out to make room for Carly Fiorina?

A) Mike Huckabee — the evangelical vote has gone to Ben Carson, andJohn Kasich has taken over the conservative-with-a-heart thing Huckabee used to do until he discovered having a heart wasn’t actually all that popular.

B) The libertarian who doesn’t believe in reproductive rights.

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One Response to “Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins”

  1. The Wizard Says:

    Cohen, do u think it is a coincidence that we stepped out of the sunlight in Syria and into the shadows with Iran? The refugees are no more than American diplomatic collateral numbers in concert with Russian and Chinese military hardware. That does not mean we owe anybody anything. You can’t always get what u want is playing in the Oval Office.

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