Over the past five-and-a-half years, the Obama White House has used the Syria echo chamber it created in the American press and on social media to defend and advance the president’s policy of nonintervention against the Assad regime. After the White House’s attempt to negotiate a deal to cooperate militarily with Russia in Syria fell apart last month, one of the administration’s most experienced Syria echo-chamber hands—Steven Simon—sprang into action.
To help readers understand how this inside baseball is played, I have annotated a recent article that Simon, a former National Security Council official in the Obama White House and now a supposedly impartial analyst, published, together with Jonathan Stevenson, in The New York Times. The genre of Simon’s current piece could be described as “policy advice to the new president.”
In the past, Simon has written articles making the White House’s case in different genres, such as the “time for a new Syria policy” genre, which I explained here, which validates current Obama policy in the guise of “rethinking” it, and then proposes a supposedly “new” approach—which will invariably prove to be the next step in the current policy. As Obama’s term comes to a close, the goal of the echo chamberists is for the next president to continue with Obama’s Syria policy.
Some of the talking points Simon lays out here for the administration’s pet think-tankers and bloggers to follow are familiar, such as “it’s too late for the United States to do anything.” But they’ve been updated with new ones, like “any military action now risks a major war with Russia”—a line that is delivered with the heavy condescension that is typical of the genre. Simon also tackles some specific concerns raised by pesky do-gooders and editorialists, such as the question of a no-fly zone. For those who have trouble reading, these exact same White House talking points were repeated by White House National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes in a podcast interview with David Remnick for The New Yorker, which lately has made a practice of echoing Syria pieces that the administration places first in the Times.
In both cases, the takeaway is clear: Obama’s Syria policy is the best among a set of bad options, and the only sensible course of action for Americans concerned by the five-and-a-half-year-long slaughter is to keep cooperating with the Russians and forget any ideas about arming rebels or going after Assad.
To read a detailed annotation of the Simon piece, click here.
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Tony Badran is Tablet magazine’s Levant analyst and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.