I’m tempted to have a violent, allergic reaction to the President’s advocacy of using force in Syria, given our hangover from the Iraq War, given that the Assad family has been killing Syrians wrongfully, tens or even hundreds of thousands of them, with conventional weapons for decades with no apparent concern on the part of the free world, and given that the White House has not provided much of a vision for a post Assad Syrian regime.
But of all the people on earth to be advocating for a new military engagement in the middle east, Barack Obama is probably the least likely. For this reason alone, I believe, we should avoid a rush to judgment and think critically about what’s going on. Barack Obama does not strike me as a person who shares George W. Bush’s love of military invasion.
Also, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, two giant right-wing jerks who have never before supported anything the President has put forward on any topic or issue, immediately announced their support for the President. This, despite the major political peril of doing so–a strike in Syria, and a bad result, could mean the ouster of both of them, from leadership, or even from office by Tea Party primary challengers in their own districts (conservative voters are anti-war as of late, now that a black man is President).
I assume, therefore, that whatever intelligence Obama showed them was not of the George Bush Dick Cheney Don Rumsfeld junk-bond variety, but of the blue-chip variety, the kind with 99% certainty, the kind that we should have demanded before giving support to Bush to invade Iraq. I find it impossible to believe that Cantor and Boehner would go out on this potentially suicidal limb based on speculative intelligence.
Obama may also have planned a two-step all along: get authorization and prepare to bomb, and look resolute, knowing (or hoping) that Assad will be forced to make a deal. Then tell Russia’s Putin that if he’s going to carry on a bromance with Assad, he needs to step up and broker a deal. This is the outcome that might actually now be in the offing.
But it could not occur without Assad’s belief in a credible military threat from America.
Seen this way, if things work out for Obama and America with regard to Assad’s chemical weapons, people like Steve Daines–who announced yesterday that he opposes granting the President the option of using force–might end up finding themselves on the wrong side of history. Obama may end up masterfully solving the problem by bluffing Assad into folding his hand. Daines and his faction will be found to have tried to obstruct it all, worrying instead about opinion polls. So, for that matter, might Tester and Baucus if they vote against authorizing force. Presumably, Democrats are going to try to buy a little time here, and keep neutral while they carefully analyze what’s happening. That would be smart.
Then again, it’s been only ten years since we were lied to by an administration that cooked up false intelligence to create a war. We should recall the pathetic appearance of Colin Powell at the UN, where he played a scratchy audio tape of two Arabs mumbling something barely audible, and presented it to the world as evidence that Hussein was a nuclear threat. It was laughably unpersuasive. But, sheepish Democrats, fearing a vote against a war that might eventually prove successful in a narrative written by Republicans, buckled. They did the wrong thing, and ended up on the wrong side of history. It cost Hillary Clinton the presidency, most likely.
And so, ironically, could Republicans do the wrong thing in this case by opposing the President’s request. It’s hard to tell. I might ordinarily be inclined to say “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” (or as George Bush’s famously butchered it, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice….uhhhh….fool me I won’t get fooled again!!”)
But the fundamental difference between now and then: we had an imbecile for a president; now we have an intelligent leader. And one thing I do know: Obama is not the type to falsify intelligence for the purposes of taking the country to war.
One more thing: as Dick Cheney and company went around on the eve of the Iraq war, trying to claim that Hussein was behind 9/11 and that he was on the verge of having a nuclear missile pointed at us (all complete nonsense), we can imagine that Steve Daines was out there cheerleading for him, acting like a young Republican in all of his asinine conservative glory, pumping his fist on behalf of Bush’s team, parroting the Bush team’s idiotic slogans, and accusing anybody who opposed the the President of not being a patriot, and of being “with the terrorists.” Now he is suddenly a dove. He apparently thinks war is unjustified even though, from the sound of it, the presence of WMD in this current case is unquestionable, whereas the last time it was doubtful. What is his standard, therefore, for when force is necessary?