In the rural South of the 1930s,"laying by time" usually came, according to one writer, "when the last weed-hoeing was done, marking the start of a down-time until harvest."
It was also a time of anxiety as "farmers looked for second jobs or, as James Agee put it in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 'hung as if on a hook on his front porch in the terrible leisure.'"
President Obama was thrust into his own foreign policy "laying by time" September 24, when he went before the United Nations General Assembly and delivered what New Republic writer John B. Judis called "his most significant foreign policy statement since becoming president."
The UN speech also began a "time of anxiety" for the president's foreign policy team which found itself hanging on Agee's hook on their own "front porch in the terrible leisure."
Susan Rice, Obama's new national security adviser, seized the "terrible leisure" time the president gave her by setting up a series of Saturday morning policy review meetings with a small number of administration officials.
Their assignment was "to plot America's future in the Middle East." The New York Times' Mark Landler describes the policy review:
"At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.
"That includes Egypt, which was once a central pillar of American foreign policy. Mr. Obama, who hailed the crowds on the streets of Cairo in 2011 and pledged to heed the cries for change across the region, made clear that there were limits to what the United States would do to nurture democracy, whether there, or in Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia or Yemen."
The discussions led to the UN speech in which Obama outlined "a more modest approach -- one that prizes diplomacy, puts limits on engagement and raises doubts about whether Mr. Obama would ever again use military force in a region convulsed by conflict."
It was, in short, and fortunately, "laying by" time for U.S. diplomacy, a sharp reversal from what had almost been a major Obama military strike on Syria. That strike was avoided when on September 11, Syria announced that:
"It will declare its chemical weapons arsenal and will sign up to the Chemical Weapons Convention to avoid US military action. In a statement shown on Russian state television, Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem said Syria was ready to co-operate fully with a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control and would stop producing more.- Advertisement -
"He added that Syria would place the locations of the weapons in the hands of Russian representatives, 'other countries' and the UN."
Obama's three major foreign policy agenda items -- Syria's civil war and its chemical weapons cache; the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; and nuclear talks with Iran -- has the potential to make a distant bad memory of President Bush's "shock and awe" foreign policy.
The New Republic's John B. Judis praised Obama's commitment to diplomacy when he wrote:
"President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday [Sept 24] to the United Nations was his most significant foreign policy statement since becoming president.
"It showed he had clearly learned something from the recent 'red line' fiasco in Syria. The speech also displayed what has always been the most attractive feature of Obama's foreign policy, one that clearly sets him off from his predecessor -- his willingness to court erstwhile enemies and adversaries, or to put it in negative terms, his not possessing what my former colleague Peter Scoblic called an 'us versus them' view of the world."