Sure, I could blog about the substance of Obama's Syria speech last night, but John Dickerson captured the problem with its political optics and Joe Weisenthal has captured the market reaction and Andrew Sullivan has the pro-Obama spin and Shibley Telhami or Micah Zenko has the anti-Obama spin.
So, instead... I'm going to risk the wrath of XKCD and talk about the role of social media:
What I found really interesting was what happened after the speech on Twitter. Namely, Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, took to Twitter in response to two influential foreign policy pundits, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg and the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof. For example:
@NickKristof CW is in distinct category. Banned by international law - threat to civilians, global security, and international order— Ben Rhodes (@rhodes44) September 11, 2013
@JeffreyGoldberg Increased support for Syrian opposition. Regime cut off from global economy. Geneva process to transition to new government— Ben Rhodes (@rhodes44) September 11, 2013
I've never seen this kind of spin room dynamic play out on Twitter on foreign policy substance. Campaign stuff, sure, but not foreign policy substance.
Dylan Byers noted it too, and reports that Rhodes was part of a larger White House communications push:
While Rhodes worked on Goldberg and Kristof, White House press secretary Jay Carney tweeted quotes from Obama’s speech — “Getting the word out by all available means!,” he tweeted at one Time Magazine reporter — and Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s assistant and senior advisor, tried to counter journalists who argued that Obama’s speech was “old news.”
“[W]e don’t assume the public follows the news as closely as leading political columnists,” Pfeiffer wrote to The Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston. And to Goldberg, he tweeted, “[P]residents don’t ask for time to address columnists who follow every minute of the news, it’s for the public that doesn’t.”
So, on the one hand, this is a New Thing -- which means that, like foreign cyber-espionage, there's a new way to measure status in the foreign policy community: If you're in power, are you important enough to be authorized to tweet in response to a Big Foreign Policy Event? If you're a pundit, are you important enough to have Ben Rhodes tweet at you? I mean, is he at least following you? Somewhere, Mark Leibovich is rubbing his hands together with glee as he starts his sequel, This Foreign Policy Town.
On the other hand.... if you read to the end of Byers' story, it doesn't seem like the spin had much effect:
Leading minds on foreign policy were unforgiving, and panned the speech as contradictory and inconsequential.
“He should have postponed,” Goldberg told POLITICO. “Basically he said — our military is ready; John Kerry is going to Geneva, and poison gas is very bad.”
In an email to POLITICO, Rothkopf called the speech “a string of his recent arguments culminating in a punt.”
“It seems clear he wishes this would all go away and that he is very uncomfortable with the spot he finds himself,” Rothkopf wrote. “The thing he feels strongest about is his own ambivalence.”
Ceding a little ground, though not much, Phillip Gourevitch, the New Yorker staff writer, tweeted: “That it’s pure rhetoric w/no substance may be understandable w/confused state of play but it clarifies nothing.” He added: “Obama did make strong case for likely ineffectiveness of action in Syria, while declaring its necessity.”
So, to sum up: XKCD is right about social media.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.