Unbelievably Small


There are going to be times, though, where, as is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons. And if that’s the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, “What are you going to do about it?” And that’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy… And the question for the American people is, is that responsibility [one] we’re willing to bear.

With the above statement, delivered extemporaneously to the press at the end of the G20 Summit, as well as with further connected remarks on the security threats that confront America and the world uniquely in this era,1 President Obama confirmed that he has been thinking about the “Crisis in Syria” historically, or, we can say, world-historically. The mode was appropriate to time, place, and moment – summation of the summit – but, unfortunately for him, as a man of action despite his re-assuringly phlegmatic demeanor, placement of the world-historical thought next to any particular occasion for it evokes a disproportion between action and meaning (or “true intentions“). The effect is to feed a general suspicion, or completely valid surmise, in regard to the Syrian conflict as to any war worthy of the name, that to will anything is to will everything, and America would rather not will at all. To make matters even more practically-politically difficult, the proposal of minimal means is burdened not only by its threateningly maximal moral and historical purposes, but by multiple additional independently intimidating justifications, each more disqualifyingly potentially persuasive than the last. Even a simple resort to the traditional, possibly indispensable arsenal of demagogy – the bloody shirt, the injury to honor, ethnic hatred, raw greed, abject fear – is gravely impaired, where not completely foreclosed. It would be too dangerous, which in this instance means “conceivably effective.”


  1. Immediate context: [wpspoiler name=”President Obama at G20 Summit on Threats and American Responsibility” style=”wpui-android”]

     So the kinds of national security threats that we’re going to confront, they’re terrorist threats. They’re failed states. They are the proliferation of deadly weapons. And in those circumstances, you know, a president’s going to have to make a series of decisions about which one of these threats, over the long term, starts making us less and less safe. And where we can work internationally, we should.

    There are going to be times, though, where, as is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons. And if that’s the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, “What are you going to do about it?” And that’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy.

    You know, there was a leader of a smaller country who I’ve spoken to over the last several days who said, you know, “I don’t envy you because I’m a small country and nobody expects me to do anything about chemical weapons around the world. They know I have no capacity to do something. And it’s tough because people do look to the United States.”

    And the question for the American people is, is that responsibility that we’re willing to bear. And I believe that when you have a limited, proportional strike like this, not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground, not some long, drawn-out affair, not without any risks, but with manageable risks, that we should be willing to bear that responsibility.



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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution.

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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