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Syria: the revisionism “begins”

You may be under the impression that we’re currently having a debate in the U.S. to figure out whether or not to intervene in Syria. Of course, missile strikes or not, that decision was made long ago, without fanfare or debate. We’ve been backing the Syrian rebels for some time now:

The White House’s aggressive push for Congressional approval of an attack on Syria appeared to have won the tentative support of one of President Obama’s most hawkish critics, Senator John McCain, who said Monday that he would back a limited strike if the president did more to arm the Syrian rebels and the attack was punishing enough to weaken the Syrian military.

In an hourlong meeting at the White House, said Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, Mr. Obama gave general support to doing more for the Syrian rebels, although no specifics were agreed upon. Officials said that in the same conversation, which included Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, Mr. Obama indicated that a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria.

So the “debate about intervention” we are having is no longer a debate “about intervention” but a debate about the type and degree of intervention we’re to have, given the prior and undisputed fact of intervention. Since we’ve already intervened, we’re being manipulated to accept further intervention as a fait accompli along with the path dependencies it involves: now that we’ve gone this far done the road (the implication is), we may as well do what it takes to “get the job done.”  And already the only parties to the debate being appeased are those who want to go farther than the president.

This piece in Spiked takes the point further (ht: Mark Brady).

What we have here, then, is a case study in the structure of a regulatory/interventionist state out of control: sail the seven seas looking for problems that are not the government’s to solve; intervene in them without discussion; then discuss whether or not to increase the size and scope of intervention, given that “failure is not an option.”

They say that truth is the first casualty of war. Here’s one of the first historiographical casualties, care of a former Bush official:

Two potential Republican presidential candidates in 2016, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, both expressed concern at a governors’ forum in July about the rising strength of national security libertarianism among Republicans, but they have so far kept quiet about Syria.

There will be many more votes and debates between the Syria resolution and the 2016 primaries. And the hawks note that although Mr. Obama defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008 in part because of her support for the Iraq war resolution, another Democratic presidential nominee, Mr. Kerry in 2004, fended off a liberal threat in a more dovish party even though he backed the same measure.

“Isolationist tendencies don’t do well in American politics over the long run,” Mr. Senor said.

Isolationist tendencies dominated American politics between the first and second World Wars–from 1918 to 1941, i.e., for more than twenty years. If the twenty years between the wars is not the “long run,” then presumably twenty years from now is not the “long run,” either. In that case, we should be able to ask the question, “What is our current Syria policy for the year 2033?” and get a straight answer–rather than the predictable answer that no one has a “crystal ball” and that 2033 is too far in the future to permit detailed planning. So what is our Syria policy for the year 2033?

The advocates of this war keep telling us that some “catastrophe” will befall us if we don’t throw ourselves into it. I can think of many catastrophes that may befall us if we do throw ourselves into it, but what exactly is the catastrophe they have in mind if we sit on the sidelines?

Mr. McCain has long advocated intervention in Syria’s civil war. After meeting with President Obama at the White House on Monday, he said that it would be “catastrophic” if Congress did not approve the president’s proposal and that such a rejection would result in the United States’s credibility being “shredded.”

I find it hard to credit the idea that we are being asked to fight a war over the impending catastrophe of a “loss of credibility.” But accept it ex hypothesi. Suppose our failure to go to war results in a “loss of credibility.” Then what? What happens if we “lose credibility”? Is the resulting state of affairs really worth fighting a war to avoid? No one should invoke this “credibility” gambit without having a clear answer to that question.

A country that fights wars to maintain its credibility obviously doesn’t have any to maintain, and can’t acquire any by pretending to have a debate over intervention after the intervention has begun. The debate itself lacks credibility in the eyes of those participating in it. Why think that missile strikes would purchase that golden commodity, credibility, when there is no credible reason to think that missile strikes by themselves will significantly alter the outcome of the war?

Our opinion makers keep talking about “war weariness” and “fatigue.” A piece of advice for them: don’t mistake resistance to this war with lack of energy or a waning of resolve.

In my case, at least, resistance is not a matter of “weariness” or “fatigue” but just the reverse. Having lived through the tail-end of Vietnam, along with Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya–the entire sick, sad litany of U.S. foreign adventures, some of which began plausibly enough, others of which didn’t–it has at last (at long last, I suppose) dawned on me that there is no end to the warfare our leaders have in mind for us. The talk of justifications and just war theory is ultimately beside the point here, an academic exercise in the worst sense of the term. There are in fact no principles at work here, no intelligible goals, no limits, no horizon that bounds their desire for more. There is just our leaders’ bipartisan addiction to warfare, their belief that every problem on Earth is ours to solve, and every weapon in our arsenal is ours to use in the effectuation of the pseudo-solutions they dream up.

It can only end when, to borrow a line from Atlas Shrugged, we each–every one of us, every day–rise up and say: “I will put an end to this.” Until it ends.

Irfan

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