Broadening the Syria Options, Beyond Bombing-or-Nothing

"If someone hands you a hard constraint, your job is to try to turn it into a soft constraint."

From a reader with a lot of experience in politics and negotiation, following this post earlier today:

It's odd that the choice seems to be framed as airstrikes vs. do nothing.  

As I understand it, the management lesson from the Cuba Missile Crisis that is taught in the Kennedy School as well as our nation's business schools is that if someone hands you a hard constraint (as in, "We have only X hours within which to intercept the missile-carrying Soviet ships") your job is to try to turn it into a soft constraint ("Can't we buy ourselves more time by intercepting those ships closer to Cuba?") in order to create more options and more room to maneuver.  Airstrikes vs. do nothing is the sort of choice that one would think would be susceptible to this approach, while not ignoring that Assad "crossed a red line."  

I'm surprised that what stands as the received wisdom of the Cuba Missile Crisis doesn't even get mentioned in what I've managed to read about the choice(s) we face regarding Syria.

From another political veteran (both these writers are Democrats):
There are two unanswered questions:
1. What was the command and control of the Syrian government in the incident?
2. What has been the US diplomacy toward the Russia in seeking a pledge from Assad not to use chemical weapons?
So far the Obama administration has not answered the first and given no indication it's engaged in the second. Obama's handling, of course, has been singularly inept to be generous, down to failing to articulate or not even knowing its own objective. The rhetoric from Kerry (Munich, Holocaust, the St. Louis) has been profoundly offensive. Samantha Power's moralizing only persuades that the administration doesn't have a clear understanding or know its goal. 
What will happen?
The administration case is so weak (see questions above) that Pelosi will be reduced to whip members on the desperate appeal that they must vote "yes" to save Obama's presidency. This is a self-created crisis of Obama's presidency that he has turned into a general foreign policy crisis, not the other way around.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.


How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

More in Global

From This Author

Just In