September 7, 2013

"It is a very strange moment for Mr. Obama..."

The NYT editorial on Obama's Syrian difficulties. It's against a military strike, I think, but in the most invisible possible way.

Let me paraphrase the 10 paragraphs:

¶1 — Obama is having trouble selling his plan to attack Syria. 

¶2 — We're right to worry that the supposedly narrow attack will turn into another big war.

¶3 — The Pentagon is planning for broader war.

¶4 — The administration has asked the Pentagon to come up with more targets — more than the 50+ targets we already have.

¶5 — Obama has been vague about what these additional targets are (but they can't be the actual chemical stockpiles, because bombing them would unloose the poison).

¶6 — Talk of launching missiles from offshore has given way to reports of sending in bombers.

¶7 — Some members of Congress want to hem Obama in but McCain openly advocates taking the side of the rebels and ousting Assad.

¶8 — Obama is supposed to be the guy that gets us out of wars, and he owes us more assurance that what is planning really is narrow.

¶9 — Putin is staring Obama down.

¶10 — The whole group of foreign leaders gave Obama the cold shoulder.

¶8 is the key paragraph. It's the one with the quote I put in the post title. It's the one where the editors get as close as they are willing to answering the question posed in the headline: "Can Mr. Obama Avoid Mission Creep?" I think their secret answer is "no," but they don't want to say that. Instead, they lay out their worries and challenge him to explain how he's going to avoid a larger war. They say "the public deserves to understand more fully what 'limited' military action actually means" as if maybe it's our comprehension problem or his failure to sufficiently elaborate.

The first paragraph references Obama's planned speech on Tuesday, so maybe the editors thought, let's give him a chance to be specific about these things. Maybe the great speech-maker can explain it all next week. What's strange — if they want to talk about strange — is that Obama hasn't delivered the big explanatory speech yet. The simplest explanation is that he can't explain, and the answer to the question "Can Mr. Obama Avoid Mission Creep?" is just: no.


"Mission creep" sounds — to me, anyway — like a term from the Nixon era. (There was CREEP.) But in fact, at least according to Wikipedia's "mission creep" article, the term goes back to Somalia:
The first two articles to use the term in the Washington Post were both by columnist Jim Hoagland ("Prepared for Non-Combat", April 15, 1993 and Beware 'mission creep' In Somalia, July 20, 1993). The New York Times used the term for the first time in an article by correspondent John H. Cushman, Jr. written after the October 4, 1993 firefight in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, in which 18 American military personnel were killed.

The U.S. and later UN Mission in Somalia (Restore Hope) would seem to be the classic example of mission creep....
Restore Hope.


Whatever makes you happy... whatever you want....


viator said...

Then there is this:

The Mediterranean Sea

West Texas Intermediate Crude said...

Re #5: "...bombong them would unloose the poison."

Don't we want the poison to be unloose?

C R Krieger said...

I loved the last line, where Operation RESTORE HOPE is somehow allowed to stand for the need to restore Hope as Mr Obama's theme.

And, mission creep is one of the two reasons to avoid this unforced error.  The other is that a number of players have little to lose by actually reacting to a US attack, thus creating the possibility of escalation without a firebreak.

Because Germany lost WWI we have blamed them for the whole thing, but Russia played a role in 1914, protecting its interests and little friends.  They are making noises again.

Regards  —  Cliff

St. George said...

Under a Parliamentary system, we'd have a new president/prime minister by Christmas.

Instead....42 more months of this.

Bob Boyd said...

"Mr. Obama did not have much sway with the G-20.....President Vladimir Putin of Russia made sure of that."


Our team couldn't make a single touchdown. Those mean boys on the other team made sure of that.

JackOfVA said...

Honesty is a capital account and Obama and the rest of his administration are overdrawn.

Whatever he may say Tuesday is not believable.

Henry said...

¶8 — Obama is supposed to be the guy that gets us out of wars, and he owes us more assurance that what is planning really is narrow.

I hate this idea that war is okay if it really is narrow. It's not just the ahistorical folly of assuming war can be narrow -- it can, as our cruise missile bombing of the Sudanese pharma factory demonstrated.

It's the horrible fracture between the ethical and utilitarian constructs that sickens. The Times promotes the idea that bombing people is okay so long as it leads nowhere and accomplishes nothing.

This is profoundly wrong. Promoting useless killing isn't made more moral by proudly avowing any national or international benefit. Just the opposite.

jacksonjay said...

Does Jay Leno have any other guests scheduled for Tuesday night?

Hagar said...

How about a mission gallop?

Can anyone think of a U.S. president's political behavior this bizarre ever?

CWJ said...

Got a feeling inside (Can't explain)
It's a certain kind (Can't explain)
I feel hot and cold (Can't explain)
Yeah, down in my soul, yeah (Can't explain)

Apologies to The Who

Assad crossed the red line (that I did not set).

We must act and I have the authority (but not before UN inspectors set out of the way).

I have the authority but I'll ask congress anyway (now I'll play golf).

Look this is important (but I'll not ask Congress to come back into session).

I'll explain why (but not until next week).

Now go back to the top of this comment and repeat.

Hagar said...

You also need to consider an equally long list of how all this looks from outside the U.s. - friends, foes, and "independents."

Naut Right said...

Russia has said they will back Assad. Suppose, after the U.S. fires its first shot, a Russian destroyer pops one off across the bow? IOW, in war plans go awry. The other guy has a say in what happens. WWoD?

n.n said...

Syria is not Libya. Not only are people now paying attention, but there are major parties with strategic interests in that region. They will not allow Obama to attack from afar nor to conduct regime change. Well, not without sufficient incentive.

David said...

I gotta believe the term mission creep is considerably older than that. I base this on recollection of using the term quite often when I was working. The working part of my life ended in 1997. But perhaps I misremember.

Michael K said...

I keep looking for anyone to notice that the mission was by George HW Bush. The creep was by Clinton and his anti-war Sec Def who would not allow the US troops to have tanks because they would be "provocative."

When the mission went pear shaped, we had to borrow M1A1s from the Pakistanis. The result was dead US soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Don't trust Democrats near a war.

raf said...

I don't like the idea of a narrow, limited strike. I have always thought that if something is important enough to go to war, it is important enough to win the war.

Paul said...


I agree. But I am afraid Obama just does not see how easy it would be to get out of hand.

Putin will send AA weapons to Syria. Iran will help. And I have no idea (nor does he) what his 'limited' strike will accomplish except kill a few people here and there.

At best he would just destroy a few buildings. At worst a diesel electric sub might put an anti-ship missile into one of a carriers and start a REAL HOT war.