A touch of revisionism from the NYT editorial page's Apocalypse tour guides: "Following the fiscal cliff deal, President Obama declared that he would not get into another fight over the debt ceiling." Following, true enough; also during, prior to, and, spiritually, above.
This, unmistakably, is a kind of cold war politics in which the president and Republican nihilists are engaged--a game of bluff, brinkmanship, and bilateral warnings of Mutually Assured Destruction. And it is perhaps the only kind of war in which "not getting into another fight" means prolonging the one we have.
I freely confess that I'm an anti-nihilist hawk. Hit them now, Mr. President, while you've got the muscle. Of course "now" is too late to hit them at the cliff, which was a tactically superior opportunity that held the vast potential of greater strategic benefit: a fiscal-cliff skirmish--at much lower human costs--might well have weakened the nihilists to the extent of political exhaustion and thus a preemptive, debt-ceiling surrender. But, no matter now.
Alternatively, we could try replaying our original M.A.D. game of cold war politics. We could, that is, suffer the escalating costs of prolonged tensions while just waiting the nihilists out--negotiating here and containing there, whenever possible. Like all evil empires their internal rot has them pre-doomed; their collapse is, as they say, just a matter of time, so why fight? But those interstitial costs. Lord, the costs.
So far, Obama remains in the hawks' camp, insisting on the hardest possible line. (And I remain almost wholly mystified about his courtiers' thunderous distinction between the immense nobility of not negotiating now and the alleged unspeakable stupidity of not negotiating just a week before. Now, when the consequences of presidential intransigence could mean a multiyear global meltdown which dwarfs the Great Depression, Obama's non-negotiating position is hailed as awesomely courageous; before, when the consequences of presidential intransigence would by all accounts have been far less apocalyptic, Obama's option of non-negotiation was ridiculed as insanely aggressive. The only demystification is this: To Obama's 100-Percenters, whatever he chooses is the right choice. Theirs is always a glowing, after-the-fact assessment. Because Obama is never wrong, their assessments are never wrong. Pretty slick.)
Will Obama remain unyieldingly hawkish? The aforementioned Times editor unleashes a firm judgment of endless ambiguity. He ventures both "fat chance," and this (italics mine): "if he makes any offer linked to the debt ceiling, he will have lost the war. He will end up negotiating with himself again, as he did over the fiscal cliff."
In sum, the cold war politics of negotiation worked once. It's very unlikely to work again.