How do you people not get the diplomacy game?!

I’ve been watching the events unfolding with Syria, the US, Russia, the UK, etc. etc. etc. like most people with interest, concern, and a bit of a dubious ‘what the hell?’ kind of initial reaction…. that is up until the moment that President Obama sent the request for action to a Congress that has held absolutely EVERYTHING up for the last 4+ years. At that point, the situation was clarified. Yet, I’m befuddled as to how so many people in the US — including folks that usually understand this kind of thing — still don’t get what all of this is about.

For example, a friend of mine (like many commentators) saw President Obama’s message last night and reacts like this:

So, the POTUS translation is: “Alright, fine, we’ll play with the Russians, but I don’t buy that it’s going to work, so heads up, we’re probably going to end up striking anyway. It’ll probably cause a big mess, and I dunno what we’re going to do with that, but it is what it is.” Did I miss anything?

In short… the answer is yes, my friend and many others are missing a whole lot.

The President’s speech was designed to hold Russia’s feet to the fire, maintain pressure on Assad, and keep pushing forward a diplomatic and non-military resolution to the problem. It’s simple leveraging in negotiations. So, let’s look at this from both historic and persuasive perspectives….

If you study the old days of diplomacy this is how the ‘leveraging’ game is played. Without the credible threat of force (and ‘credible threat’ being the operative word), there’s very little to leverage to make sure that countries/ leaders follow through on their word. Of course it’s chest beating and posturing, but it’s an important message to communicate. Hell, in the old days (from the Greeks on through the 17th’ish century), the troops would often be paraded out and the negotiation took place on the battlefield and then everyone went home. 

It’s a much more effective strategy to prevent war than the Teddy Roosevelt’s approach of speaking softly but carrying a big stick… instead it’s more of a speak loudly and have a really big ass stick and the perceived reluctant willingness to use it. 

So, yes, many people are missing the point of the President’s speech last night as well as his interview the night before that. It’s a question of objective… if the objective is to actually go to war, you just start the strikes once there’s evidence of naughtiness because… well… you can. If, however, the objective is to minimize the likelihood of armed conflict while simultaneously preventing future harm (i.e., the weapons were already used and we can never likely “prove” it was Assad that ordered it), then you come out with a strong statement but then turn it over to Congress under the pretense of the rule of law, you have your chief foreign diplomat beating the war drum, and then you go to a conference of foreign leaders and create a situation where the ally of the enemy is pushed into stepping up in order to avoid an even greater potential international conflict. In so doing, the naughty boy realizes he’s shit out of luck and pays lip service to compliance, but absent the threat of force and follow through, you risk losing the long game. The president has already demonstrated he’s willing to use military force when he views it as necessary (e.g., controversial drone strikes, Libya, Somali pirates, oh yeah and Bin Laden), so the threat has to be viewed as credible.

But the communication of a cautious optimism with the underlying threat still there pushes Putin/Russia to pressure Syria, pressures Syria to comply, and falls in line with how the diplomacy of conflict prevention has been done for thousands of years. Oh yeah, and remember the strategy works uniquely because Russia is the agent of action — that is, without Russia exerting its “friendly” pressure on Syria to act, this probably doesn’t work… Assad has no way to maintain face and international credibility (in his own world). Yet, with the pressure coming from Russia, not only does Russia get the opportunity to look like the peace broker but it’s done in a way that gives Syria a reasonable way to comply with international demands AND maintain their own efficacy. Wait, now why did Obama send the military strike action to Congress again ahead of the G20 Summit? 😉

The strategy is sound, interesting, and with a history of willingness to use airstrikes creates just enough fear to motivate behavioral change but not so much that the target of the message goes into a fear control process (see EPPM from Kim Witte) where Assad doubles down because there’s no “winning” scenario for him. So bottom line, from both history of conflict AND a fear-based persuasion perspectives, Obama’s strategy and message are based in sense with a clear objective of AVOIDING bombing. For now, the strategy is working… with a rational actor (i.e., Assad — he’s not stupid nor does he want to be deposed… he’s too familiar with the West and likes the material trappings of it) interested in maintaining his own power, the strategy should work.

If that was the design from the start, then Obama’s a fucking awesome game player in international diplomacy… if it’s just luck that it’s worked out this way, then groovy… I’m glad that luck happens and it’s clear that he’s rolling with this strategy now.

In the mean time people…seriously… put the critical thinking caps on and try to see a big picture (i.e., this is why understanding history and actually knowing stuff is really useful… it keeps Chicken Little from thinking the sky is falling).

 

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Tyranny of the minority – geez it’s embarrassing

Yesterday in on of the most ridiculous Senate votes, the US Senate rejected background checks for gun sales by a vote of 54-46 — no, 54 Senators did not vote against the bill only 46 did. Let that sink in — because Harry Reid, Democratic Majority leader did not push to get rid of the ridiculous “super majority” required to do anything in the US Senate (which, he could have done) a MINORITY of US Senators rejected the most mild form of gun control legislation possible — a background check — despite around 90% of the American public supporting it.

When was the last time 90% of Americans agreed on anything in the first place? And in the second place, democracy is supposed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, but also supposed to protect everyone from the tyranny of the minority. Yet, the American Congress fails in both respects. How does this happen? Well, a solid campaign of misinformation from gun control opponents using one of several logical fallacies to support their fear campaign. You’d think that Senators would be ‘above’ campaigns of misinformation, but it feeds the GOP objectives of being obstructionist, even to the detriment of the American public. It’s not like this is the first time they’ve placed politics above people. We need only look at how many peoples’ jobs, program funding, and the most vulnerable have been/would be negatively affected by silliness of the fiscal cliff political wranglings as a recent example, but the list is long of how the GOP/Tea Party obstruction approach to governance has hurt Americans in the last four years.

The disinformation campaign worked though — the poorly informed in the US (i.e., a sad majority on both sides) really thought that the background check was more restricting on gun rights than it actually was. So, from the blindly GOP we see little gems like this popping up today throughout social media. SecondAmendmentBSFlag I hate to tell you all, but law abiding citizens were never at risk of losing much with this particular piece of legislation.  We already have background checks that have been in place since 1993 with the passage of the Brady Bill. It denies the privilege of owning a gun to the following people:

  • People convicted of a felony with a sentence of 1 or more years in prison
  • People convicted of a misdemeanor with a sentence of 2 or more years in prison
  • Being indicted by a crime that would carry a sentence of 1 or more years.
  • Being a fugitive from justice
  • A user of illegal drugs or ‘known’ addict
  • Being involuntarily committed to a mental institution
  • Being an illegal alien
  • Being dishonorably discharged from the military
  • Renouncing your US citizenship
  • Being subject to a restraining order for threatening a family member
  • Being convicted of domestic violence

Here’s the problem with the Brady Bill — it doesn’t cover guns sold over the Internet (because in 1993 the Internet didn’t exist as it does today… hell, we were using DOS-based email) nor does it cover gun shows. So, if you go from the most conservative estimates of 15-20% or use the figures from a 1997 white paper pointing to a figure of closer to 40% of all gun sales are not subject to background checks.

We probably shouldn’t get so hung up on the specific percentages, so let’s break the information down another way.  The ATF estimates that in 2005 (as the ‘sample’ year) it was estimated that were around 5000 gun shows in the United States with varying amounts of gun sales… but at big shows moving likely 1000 guns in a weekend. If I whip out my calculator here, that makes 5 MILLION guns (give or take a million or two) moved in the United States that require no background check at all!

Let’s also offer a couple of quick responses to slippery slope fallacy that background checks will lead to a national registry and some kind of Orwellian control over guns (yes, you people sound just that silly). Response 1: we’ve had a damn gun registry since 1993 and we haven’t seen the emergence of a national registry. That 20 years of data seems to suggest you’re just wrong. Response 2: and by far the better response… had the background check bill actually been passed, it would have literally outlawed the emergence of any kind of a gun registry and anyone attempting to start one would have faced a 15 year jail sentence for it.

Alright — all of that was for the ill-informed knee jerks who thought their world would have ended. For supporters of any kind of gun control legislation — you also don’t help when you’re misinformed either. IF the opposition gets to debate whether a national registry is a good or bad idea, then guess what we’ve already lost the conversation because we’re spending time and energy offering good arguments to a point that’s utterly irrelevant. Of course we have registries in this country associated with things like our driver’s license and change of address forms. Hell — we just passed tax day and if you filed your taxes, the government has a registry of where you live and how much money you have. Not only that, but we have background checks in an increasing number of our jobs, to get a house/apartment, credit card, or any number of things. But those don’t help to refute a well-crafted and disciplined misinformation campaign. We can’t have 50 arguments all over the place.

So, let’s come back to the point — it’s embarrassing to be an American sometimes — like days when our world education and health care figures come out pointing that the United States is falling behind developing nations. It’s embarrassing to be an American when our elections are corrupted by corporatism under the guise of the freedom of speech. It’s embarrassing to be an American when I’m trying to explain Fox News and their viewers to anyone outside of the United States. And it’s embarrassing when an old guy on the train asked where I was from and I responded and in broken English and German he jokes, “oh yeah, George W. Bush — thanks for that”. But, it’s not just embarrassing but fundamentally soul wrenching when the most basic and watered down effort at sensible gun control at a national level is defeated by a minority vote even though it’s so benign that 90% of Americans agree with it AND some people actually think it was a “win” for freedom.

<face in palm>