Jen Rubin points out that Obama’s decision to go to Congress about Syria was made Friday afternoon after a long walk with his political chief of staff, Denis McDonough:
He went with his political chief of staff, Denis McDonough, on a 45-minute walk
(who knows if Valerie Jarrett weighed in as well) – not his national
security adviser or secretary of state — to figure out how to get out of
this. His solution: Throw the ball to Congress. He then informed his
national security team after the fact.
Rubin links a story which appeared in the Washington Post Saturday though the detail about a 45-minute walk actually appears in this WSJ story from Sunday, not in the Post. In any case, both papers contain leaks from unnamed aides who claim Obama told McDonough his reasons for wanting to go to Congress. Here’s the Post version:
Obama told McDonough two reasons for his approach to enlist Congress in any strike against Syria.
wanted there to be political accountability — lawmakers from both
parties, he believed, should be on the record in support or against the
Obama told advisers that congressional support, far from
certain, given the animosity that extends the length of Pennsylvania
Avenue, would ultimately strengthen support for the war and perhaps
protect public opinion for a sustained operation.
reason? Unlike the U.S.-led military operation in Libya in 2011 — which
was supported by the U.N. Security Council and the Arab League — the
United States did not have the same level of international backing.
Who leaks a description of a private conversation between the President and his chief political adviser to the newspapers? Does that person do so without prior approval? Not if they want to keep their job. These were approved links, something we’ve seen before when Obama admin. figures were in trouble.
Back in May AG Eric Holder was getting bad press because of his targeting of a Fox News reporter as a “co-conspirator” in a national security leak. Then the Daily Beast published a story in which we learned that “the gravity of the situation didn’t fully sink in until Monday morning when he read the Post‘s front-page story, sitting at his kitchen table.”
It seems the Daily Beast has better info than the NSA. Unless someone was sitting at Holder’s kitchen table taking notes on his state of mind, this vignette of regret could only have come from Holder himself.
And in this little story not only does Holder regret his actions but he regrets them because of the work done by journalists. How convenient when he is being hit for attacking journalists to have a story in which journalists help him see the light. It’s almost like it was scripted to dig Holder out of the hole he was in.
Now look again at what supposedly happened in Obama’s private meeting with McDonough. He’s not asking his political adviser what will get him through this mess. He’s not asking about poll results. He’s being decisive. In both the Post and the WSJ the one certain fact is that Barack Obama was not being an indecisive leader seeking the best political solution to his self-made problem. Instead he was informing McDonough of his decision for the good of the mission.
Does that even sound like Obama? They guy who dithered on Iran during the faux-election. The guy who has dithered on Syria for 2 years now. The guy who has known about possible chemical weapon use in Syria for six weeks. Does the story of a decisive leader even ring true at this point?
I’d like to go out on a limb and suggest that the Post and the WSJ were given the story the White House wanted to see in print, i.e. decisive leader Obama taking decisions. Just imagine the headline we might have seen here: President In Crisis
Takes Damage Control Advice from Top Political Adviser. Compare that
to the actual headline the WSJ went with: At the Last Minute, Obama
Call to Seek Congressional Approval.
All the evidence suggests the
former is the more accurate headline, but the major papers are willing to take the word of
Obama’s unnamed staffers for the latter. That’s how easy it is to turn a looming defeat into a win. All it takes is a compliant lapdog media willing to print your spin as fact.
In this case it’s not even remotely plausible. Does it take 45 minutes to tell your adviser something you’ve already definitely decided to do? No, it does not. If, on the other hand, you’re uncertain and you’re asking
(not telling) your chief political adviser how to get out of the mess
you’re in, that might take 45 minutes to hash out with his help and input.
Obama walked the grounds with McDonough, but you can bet it was not a one way conversation. After considering what a sad state of affairs his Syria response was in with the Brits bowing out 24-hours earlier, Obama took the best political course of action. That discussion may even have included a plan to leak a self-serving account of how the President alone made the decision to major media outlets.
The media promised it would be more skeptical of every administration’s course to war after Iraq, but they’ve already failed. The press is being co-opted with fake leaks making Obama’s decision sound less political and more confident than it really is. Obama is clearly counting on the media greeting him as a liberator and, so far, he’s been right.