News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 12, 2013

FLASHPOINT: How Congress, the media and the public got played

Carly Schmitt
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — Aaron Sorkin couldn’t have written it any better.

The president of the United States makes threats, flexes his muscles, and bides his time as Congress takes its time mulling over various military options. Knowing the prolonged nature of the congressional decision-making process, Obama used this time to get what he really wants: a peaceful, international solution to the Syrian situation. After all, is it a better outcome to bomb key targets in Syria, kill civilians, and not truly disarm Syria of its chemical weapons, or rid the country of al-Assad for that matter?

Following the evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, President Obama, to the surprise of Republicans and Democrats alike, came out very strongly in support of using military force against Syria. As the public and members of Congress reacted with indignation, the president conceded and went to Congress for authorization for the use of force. What is clear from the president’s address is that all the debate and discussion that has ensued was part of the White House’s chess game having the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of President al-Assad for over two weeks, convincing the international community that a U.S. attack was imminent, and, in turn, getting Russia, an ally of al-Assad, to help broker a peaceful resolution.

Well, we all got played.

President Obama had to do something, and that something was not to engage in a large-scale attack leading to more Syrian civilian lives lost. Knowing that members of Congress would want their time in the spotlight, Obama used this time to meet his end goal of not using force all the while appearing tough on those who use chemical weapons on their own people. This interregnum was essential in lining up the chess pieces needed to reach the desired check mate.

Of course, the media will not admit that it was played by the president, and members of Congress most certainly won’t admit that they, too, got played, but President Bartlet and the gang couldn’t have done it better.

— Carly Schmitt

Department of Political Science

Indiana State University