Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Heat Is On

Life is often about expectations, and at the end of August in the Midwest, we usually expect it to be hot. The scorching heat wave now covering the Great Plains is certain to push temperatures into the triple digits throughout the region all week long -  a sure sign you'll hear someone talk longingly of the Farmer's Almanac forecast for this winter that predicts a frigid and snowy season ahead.

As ridiculously hot as the weather in the Plains region feels this week, we also expect that the relative temperature for President Obama on the topic of Syria is multiple degrees hotter than anything Midwesterners are feeling.

As the latest Reuters/Ipsos Poll confirms, Americans are cool to the idea of intervening in Syria right now. They actually like Congress right now more than the thought of getting involved in any kind of conflict. That makes President Obama's job that much harder to decide what - if anything - the U.S. may be able to do, in light of the 'moral obscenity' of the chemical gas attack that happened in Syria this past week.

Secretary of State John Kerry gave a brief address on Monday afternoon where he did note that - after U.N. inspectors had visited the site - it's undeniable that a poison gas attack has killed hundreds of Syrians.

What most media outlets and many pundits failed to pick up on was that Kerry did not explicitly say the Assad regime was responsible for killing hundreds of Syrians with chemical or nerve gas.

The fact is, we don't know if Assad's forces fired the chemical weapons, or if the rebels themselves used the chemical weapons on their own people, in an attempt to draw the United States into the Syrian conflict, to help them take down Assad. Don't think strange actions like that are impossible. Newly declassified CIA files that prove the during the Reagan era, America actually helped Saddam Hussein to gas his own people.

It's also not like Middle Eastern political relationships are easy. As Max Fisher at the Washington Post, and the Egyptian blogger The Big Pharaoh pointed out in their fantastic relational chart on Monday, Middle Eastern political alliances are anything but simple or easy to understand.

Still, what Joshua Holland, writing at Moyers & Company, also made clear is what anyone with any sense of the region already understands. While pundits on all sides - both in America and abroad - are screaming that somebody, ANYBODY, needs to take some immediate action to stop the carnage in Syria, they aren't the ones who would be on that Syrian battlefield. The pundits also aren't the ones that would have to deal with any political fallout.

Further, as anyone who studies the chart from Fisher and The Big Pharaoh can see, there is very little upside for any of the three biggest powers on the chart - the U.S., Russia, and Iran - to intervene in Syria. In fact, any intervention is almost all downside for any of the three major players - which means no matter how loud the pundits scream, there isn't likely to be any serious, sustained action to change the situation from the outside anytime soon, by the U.S., Russia, or Iran.

Think of it like the heatwave hitting the Midwest; Right now, there are people screaming about conditions that are inarguably bad. But what people are saying they want so very much, right now - whether it's the icy chill of winter or a serious military strike by the U.S. - isn't what they're going to want in six months, or even this time next year.

Presidents must act carefully so as not to make conditions worse for those who follow behind them in the future. Unfortunately for President Obama, it's almost certain that at least some of the heat he's feeling now was caused by his predecessors.

Unfortunately, the political forecast for him doesn't look to be cooling off anytime soon.