This morning’s front page headline in The New York Times, print version: “President Seeks to Rally Support for Syria Strike.” I like the online version better: “Obama Starts Lobbying Blitz for Support of Strike on Syria.” The attitudes expressed here are fully in keeping with the Obama administration’s desire to treat the decision to go to war as one on par with a decision to vote for pork barrel legislation. Just to remind you, we are about to go to war so as to maintain the “credibility” of President Obama’s off-the-cuff threat to go to war:
“We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Mr. Obama said in response to questions at an impromptu news conference at the White House. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.”
“That would change my calculus,” he added. “That would change my equation.”
Excuse me–what “equation”? You mean the one where you plug in variables like “whole buncha weapons movin around,” and “can’t have that,” and after a couple of turns of an inscrutable and ineffable algorithm, you derive the output: “time for some limited strikes–not that we know what the limits are”? Why not just describe this “equation” for what it really is–a bunch of half-assed, seat of the pants quasi-humanitarian and pseudo-strategic gestures, ill-conceived from the outset, with no real conception of the aims or consequences going forward? You don’t need “calculus” for this equation. You just need arithmetic: 0+0=0. In other words, when it comes to the justification for war, nothing comes from nothing.
That may sound overly rhetorical, but actually, I’m just following the lead of the “experts.” Hearken to the delicious irony of their words:
“Our biggest problem is ignorance; we’re pretty ignorant about Syria,” said Ryan C. Crocker, a former ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University.
Yes, that would be a big problem. I do like the fact that it’s the dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service that’s telling the anti-Bush Obama Administration not to follow a Bush-like foreign policy–and that the former ambassador to Syria is admitting his ignorance of the country to which he once served as emissary. (The school is named after the first George Bush, not that it really matters.) The whole thing sounds like something out of a modern-day version of a Platonic dialogue. You could call it Syriana if the name hadn’t already been taken. Incidentally, I highly recommend reading the whole article in the embedded link just above, “Mideast Experts Worry that U.S. Plan to Attack Syria Overlooks Risks,” New York Times, Aug. 31, 2013. It’s like a one-stop shopping resource for the anti-Syrian-war activist.
A few weeks ago, I toyed with the idea of voting Democratic on the grounds that they had a less interventionist approach to foreign policy than the Republicans. I stand corrected. If you want to see a profile in confusion that strikes me as characteristically Democratic in its contours, I highly recommend reading Peter Baker and Michael R. Gordon’s “Kerry Becomes Chief Advocate for U.S. Attack,” (NYT, Aug. 31). This is what a veteran Democrat sounds like when, despite all he has going for him in the way of hard experience and intelligence, he’d rather appeal to naked self-sacrifice than expect anyone to use his brain and ask “Why?”
“We know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war — believe me, I am, too,” said Mr. Kerry, who opposed the Iraq war in his failed presidential bid in 2004. “But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency.”
It’s all there–the characteristically Democratic strategy of manipulation in one shabby sentence: “Fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.”
In other words: Start by reducing all anti-war arguments to a species of lassitude. Then invoke some vague but very large “responsibility” and saddle everyone with it. Don’t name it. Don’t justify it. Just let it hang there so that the guilt trip will do its work on those susceptible to guilt trips.
Follow that procedure by accusing your opponents of a lack of realism. Never mind the fact that you yourself are merely making an appeal to your audience’s emotions, and have no discernible plan whatsoever for the conduct of the war you’d like to begin.
When all else fails, introduce a sub-Marxist element into the conversation by claiming to be on the side of “history,” and suggesting that your opponents are out of step with “history.” Do this, naturally, while ignoring actual history, even the history of your own country’s military adventures in the last few decades.
End your peroration with vacuous, question-begging phrases like “common understanding of decency.” In other words, defy the fact that the polls and popular opinion are against you (which is why you have to make the speech in the first place). Then suggest that everyone–all decent people–want war. Those who don’t are either indecent, or badly out of step with that all-important value, mass consensus. If only we would all support a few missile strikes–just a few little missile strikes is all they ask, just enough to stop the rain of chemical death–we, too, will come back into alignment with the still, small voices of decency.
The Israeli refuseniks have a saying, in Hebrew: yesh gvul. “There’s a limit.” The time has come for the American people to emulate the courage and resolve of those refuseniks and refuse this war. There is a limit. We’ve reached it.