A Tie Vote on Syria?

I was pleased to see that President Obama read two of my articles last weekend (at least it seems that way), when he decided to seek congressional approval of any strike on Syria. My articles were: “Building a Team Against the Problem” and “Four Leadership Skills for Herding Cats.” He shouldn’t try to “go it alone” on this issue, for the reasons I describe below. Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that Syrian dictator Assad is a “high-conflict person” (HCP). That means that logical persuasion is pointless, that appeals to him for empathy and remorse are a lost cause and that he needs limit-setting and consequences – because he will never stop his high-conflict behavior on his own, just because it’s a good idea or in his long-term interests. HCPs generally work against their own long-term self-interests, while wreaking havoc on the lives of others – because they lack self-awareness and don’t adapt their extreme behavior to changing circumstances.

So limit-setting and consequences are clearly needed with such people – especially when they kill approximately 1400 defenseless civilians, significantly women and children. But who can set such limits?

HCPs are tricky and complicated. One of their primary skills is blaming others – we’ve seen this already with the “perpetrator blaming the victims”: Assad says that it was really the rebels who released the deadly gases killing their own people. With that, he seems to acknowledge that chemical weapons were used. Of course, he argues that it would be absurd for him to release chemical weapons, because look at all the trouble it would cause in the international community.

Again, this fits well with HCP logic of denial and blame. But what is interesting here is that he is basing his actions – as many bullies do – on the assumption of weakness and non-intervention by outsiders. This reminds me of Saddam Hussein (another possible HCP), who wrongly assumed that George W. Bush was bluffing about intervention. I think Assad is really surprised at the outcry. After all, most of the world – including Obama – has kept hands off for these past two years.

Assad says he is confident that the world will go to war if Syrian military assets are attacked. But who is that world that is eager to defend him – or go to war against anyone? His words tell me that he is surprised with the reaction of the world to his own actions and has become suddenly less confident and more defensive. But his defensiveness has been words instead of actions – because now is not the time for him to be engaging in more brutal attacks against his own people while the whole world is watching.

With that in mind, I think now is the time to set real limits on Assad by having a very close vote in congress on the issue of attacking Syria – but a slightly “No” vote – with many congressional members saying: “I would change my vote to yes if Assad makes one more false move.”

Such a slightly “No” tie accomplishes two things: It saves the world from more killing, destruction and unpredictability right now. But it also warns Assad that it’s not just a weak President, but it’s the representatives of the entire nation, who are ready to attack him if he releases more chemical weapons or engages in some other extreme measure. HCPs pay a great deal of attention to immediate and credible threats. Obama lacked the ability to make such a threat. But when the U.S. congress threatens to vote to support a military intervention – witness Afghanistan and Iraq – the world knows that it is very likely to occur. Let’s not miss this chance to set limits and save lives at the same time.

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Bill Eddy is the President of the High Conflict Institute, and an attorney, therapist and mediator. He has provided workplace trainings to several government agencies including the Social Security Administration, U.S. National Merit Protection System Board, San Diego Navy Medical Center, San Diego District Attorney’s Office, the State Services Authority in Melbourne Australia and other organizations. He is the author of several books, including It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything and High Conflict People in Legal Disputes. Visit our website at www.HighConflictInstitute.com for more articles and resources on managing high-conflict people.