Do Putin or Assad Actually Fear U.S. Strikes?

I’m skeptical. First off, both leaders undoubtedly know that the force authorization was going to die in Congress. They can read the whip counts and it’s pretty clear by now that this isn’t going to pass. Here’s Ezra Klein commenting on the potential compromise of Assad handing over his chemical weapons:

That deal will fall apart if Syria and Russia conclude that the White House’s threats are empty. Obama needs the country’s backing to strike Syria so he can strike a diplomatic bargain to get rid of Assad’s chemical arsenal, thus ending America’s interest in striking Syria.

But Obama can’t get that support by going on prime time and asking Americans to help him bluff Russia.

What exactly do Syria and Russia fear? The only thing I can think of is that they believe the President will authorize the strikes without Congressional approval. I don’t see that happening. Maybe that’s a large enough risk that Putin and Assad are open to negotiations to avoid it. But they certainly shouldn’t fear that Congress will approve of the strikes.

Here’s Klein again this morning on why the White House postponed the vote:

The other is that the White House would very likely lose — if they were going to win, they’d hold the vote and use the authorization as leverage with Russia and Syria.

It’s not like Putin and Assad don’t understand this either! If Obama had the votes, there would be no reason for the White House to delay. It would give the Administration leverage over Assad and allow them to speed up the negotiating process since the President would have the authority to strike at any time.

So, what motivated Syria and Russia to look for a compromise? I’m not sure, but I can’t see how the President’s bluff had anything to do with it.

Liberals Overestimate Obama’s Leverage on the Fiscal Cliff

The Fiscal Cliff is still unresolved.
The Fiscal Cliff is still unresolved.

Over the past couple of days, the White House has taken a lot of heat from liberals for agreeing to using chained-CPI in Social Security. Different writers have lashed out at such a deal and argued that the President is back to “negotiating with himself.” Many of these liberals see going over the fiscal cliff as better than the deal Obama is currently offering. They believe that going over the cliff will give Obama more leverage in the negotiations and allow him to extract a better deal from Republicans. However, I’m very skeptical of this for three reasons:

First, the President is in such a great position now because Republicans really don’t want the Bush tax cuts to expire for anyone. The President wants to extend the tax cuts as well, just not for those making $250,000 a year or more (his most recent offer upped this amount to $400,000). In his counteroffer, House speaker John Boehner agreed to raise rates on those making more than a $1,000,000.

But the rates on everyone automatically rise on January 1st (though its effects don’t occur for a few months). This where the President’s leverage comes from. He would sign a bill extending the tax cuts for the middle class, but Republicans won’t because they want to extend rates for the upper class (and small businesses) as well. That’s why the President can say:

It’s unacceptable for some Republicans in Congress to hold middle class tax cuts hostage simply because they refuse to let tax rates go up on the wealthiest Americans

The polling has largely backed up the President, with the American people blaming Republicans for not compromising.

The thing that many liberals have overlooked is that this can change quickly. Boehner’s offer to raise rates on those making over a $1,000,000 may not be much substantively, but it represents a big shift in the Republican party. For years now, the Republicans have adamantly refused to raise taxes. Period. End of question.

Now, the Speaker is finally offering to let taxes rise on the wealthiest Americans. The American people may see this as a major compromise for Republicans and believe that the President is now holding the middle tax cuts hostage. I haven’t seen any polling since Boehner submitted this offer to the President,  but I’d be very interested in it. If we go over the fiscal cliff, it’s possible that Obama could receive much of the blame. That would certainly put him in a much worse bargaining position. Continue reading “Liberals Overestimate Obama’s Leverage on the Fiscal Cliff”