Eugene Robinson Live

Sep 10, 2013

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everyone. Today it's Syria, Syria and more Syria. The president speaks tonight. The Russians have already spoken. Anybody got a clue what's going on? Let's begin.

Hi Eugene -- thanks for taking questions today. I agree with you that President Obama has not been exactly compelling in making the case for possible military intervention in Syria. I voted for him in two elections and would gladly do so again, but I find his inability to explain certain things and be persuasive -- notably the Syrian situation and his own health care plan -- very perplexing. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's like his heart just isn't in it, or something. At yet at other moments he comes across as strong, heartfelt, confident...the guy I'm glad is our president. Your thoughts?

You're referring to my column this morning, in which I confessed to being confused about what President Obama and his team were trying to tell us about Syria. Anyone who reads my column knows that I have been supportive of Obama and his progressive agenda, but it's not my job to be supportive all the time. (That's Jay Carney's job.) My job is to tell the truth as I see it, and I just don't understand why he has handled Syria the way he has. I believe he made a compelling case about the need for a punitive strike. Bu then he went to Congress -- and with a muddled message, at that -- knowing he might not get authorization. So is he torn? Does he know what he wants to do? Unclear to me. Maybe he will explain tonight.

While it looks for the time being like this issue will resolve itself with Syria removing chemical weapons, I was still offended at the administrations attempt to sell war again (even a small, quick one). In 2003,I was vexed at the reason that government had to sell war, as I believe it should be due to the will of the people. But this time I was just plain offended, as in, does the administration just think that people don't follow world events unless they are speaking? They can't end the wars they said they would stop, and now they want more action!

The question in Syria, as I saw it, was whether the use of chemical weapons was so far beyond the pale that it justified, or required, a punitive strike. I think poison gas is a very big deal. It is one demon that humankind has pretty much managed to keep bottled up for a century, and to loose it now, with all the turmoil in the world, would be catastrophic. I thought that was the case President Obama was making.

Do you think the 'resolution' in Syria is real? Is it just to keep the US from threatening to attack? Will we see more gas attacks there?

I think the Russian gambit, in which Assad agrees -- or seems to agree -- to surrender his chemical weapons, is brilliant. From the Russian/Syrian point of view. It doesn't just stall or prevent an attack. It has the perverse effect of creating a situation in which we have to hope, on some level, that the Assad regime survives -- at least long enough to locate and somehow secure the chemical weapons, which will take a long time. We have to want the government to remain in control of the weapons for the time being so they don't fall into the hands of jihadist rebels. Right? Or am I missing something.

Good column, and I'm surprising myself by saying that. By backing Obama's nonsensical middle eastern follies, all those voices on the left who said we should impeach Bush have no ground to stand on the next time a Republican president wants to do something overseas. If anybody ever thought the march to war was nonpartisan, this last month disproves that theory.

You must be watching a different movie. You should recall that the Democratic majority in the House under Nancy Pelosi made no effort to impeach President Bush. (It's Republicans who are susceptible to Impeachment Fever, apparently.) And the one thing Obama has accomplished is making it a requirement for the next president who wants to take military action -- whether D or R -- to seek congressional approval.

Gene- Some have argued that American prestige and power have been irrepairably harmed by the Syrian fiasco. The amateurish approach indicates the administration is incompetent and the damage to America's ability to influence events in the world, presumably for good, has been harmed in the long term. Is this argument true to any extent? I am honestly torn between the incompetence argument on the part of the Obama administration(i.e. lack of foreign policy cohesion and vision, no leadership on the world stage, etc.) and the fact that US power has been exposed as weak by the unsuccessful attempt to bring democracy to Libya, Egypt and most notably Iraq. Your thoughts? Will the next President be able to restore American prestige and power to any extent or has the harm done by Obama and Bush too great to be fixed anytime soon?

American prestige and power are more resilient than some people seem to think. I can't say they were enhanced over the past couple of weeks, but when push comes to shove, the American president will continue to be the most powerful person in the world -- and everyone else will have to pay attention when he or she speaks. (Whether or not what he or she says is exactly clear.)

Do you think this has a chance of defusing the present situation? I mean not the conflict itself but the push for the U.S. to intervene? Even if it's a facade, it will let Obama get back to campaigning for jobs and health care.

I think this proposal likely forestalls military action for the time being. But it could go off the rails at any time.

Any idea what is going to happen with the budget?

A "whale of a fight," if you believe Speaker John Boehner. But first they have to get past Syria...

I can only imagine the outrage and ridicule if Romney were president and backtracked so fast on this issue. But then again it's your job to deflect and defend the democrats and slander the republicans whenever you can

Did you actually read my column? You call that deflecting and defending? Or do you just come to this chat to vent?

Hello Mr.Robinson, I am one of those who see the President as having handled the Syria dilemma quite well. There has been from the start an unreasonable expectation by the press and the opposition on what should be done in Syria. This I believe has led to a rush to judgement about the outcome which is changing minute by minute. Why in your opinion is this rush to judgement taking place?

You make a good point that we will judge the outcome in the fullness of time. But I don't think it's too early to say the administration's approach has been contradictory and confusing. I, too, hope it somehow works out.

Your colleague, Jonathan Capehart, has a good op-ed piece today about Zimmerman's latest antics. (It must be nice to have a father who is a judge in Lake Mary who contributes a lot to police causes and politicians, btw--this has to be the reason with this stuff that would have any one of us locked up). Anyway, what are your own thoughts? Do you agree with Mr. Capehart?

I'll just say that I'm not surprised that George Zimmerman continues to have trouble with the law. And apparently continues to think firearms make him a man.

Greetings Mr. Robinson, It seems to me that the media is making a big deal out of the White House messaging on this issue. Could the message have been "muddled" as you and other pundits put it because of the logical sequence of events and this administrations responsiveness to be more inclusive and transparent than the last administration in terms of the use of military power?

That would be a really charitable view. 

Is it just my imagination or has President Obama become a lame duck earlier than usual? I know the general public is not thinking 2016 specifically but I get a vibe that the country is already looking for something/someone new. Thoughts?

I sense no eagerness for another election cycle to begin. I sense a desire for the government to do its job -- which would require a decision by Republicans to work with the president rather than oppose him at every turn.

And that's all for today, folks. See you again next week!

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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