That was then, this is now.
Obama is not Bush. Syria isn’t Iraq. [UPDATED]
Funny thing about the Hobbesian state of nature that is foreign affairs. Things change fast. Really fast. For example, here’s me about Syria last time I wrote about it.
But guess what! Not our problem. Not after Iraq, or Afghanistan, or pick the place people cry about on Memorial Day. This is not Bosnia or Kosovo either — we have no real “friends” in the area, there is not a “genocide” underway, it’s not 1999, and Israel can handle themselves just fine. I am not interested. No American should be.
Now that Assad has used chemical weapons on the biggest scale in decades, I’m very interested now, and all Americans should be as well.
Should. And that’s the problem.
George W. Bush so utterly destroyed American moral authority the first thing that leaps to mind when we see a loathed canker sore walking dead monarch choking children to death on chemicals after their parents began a peaceful push for change 2 years ago is…Iraq. Even using the word “chemical weapons” feels embarrassing. Waiting for UN “weapons inspectors” is like watching a bad rerun of a Barbara Stanwyck made for TV movie. Hans Blix again? Get that pointless tool outta here.
Wasn’t always this way.
The Bush “foreign policy dream team” wasn’t smart enough to come up with, let alone execute, the Clinton humanitarian use of American power two-step themselves. They cut and paste it. Onto lies. On purpose.
Because it works. Bill Clinton created that template to stop two genocides in the Balkans, after the guilt from watching a genocide in Rwanda. George W. Bush whored it all out throwing us into Iraq. That doesn’t make the argument wrong, it puts the argument in great need of repair. Like every other damn thing about America after W.
Another great tragedy of W — he gave the insipid, pedantic, uneducated knee jerk opposition to such use of American power from my fellow lefties raw cocaine to the vein. For the last few days, all they’ve done is grunt “Iraq” from their loins as if it’s an argument, not a sickening misuse of two centuries of American authority. It’s cheap. It’s stupid. Makes you look stupid. And exposes your bias in an instant.
Stop giving air to Bush’s worst plague on American moral authority by insulting us with it’s irrelevant invocation as we try to erase it.
And by the way, it isn’t “war”. War is what is on the ground in Syria. We are not “going to war”. We are not “starting another war”. We do not need to “declare war”. You people do not know what war is. If you told my Uncle Joe who fought in the Battle of the Bulge that a couple hundred cruise missiles is a “war”, he’d laugh. Children choking on chemicals in Damascus are in a war, we are not, and won’t be.
The best case and most likely scenario when we do act in Syria is for Assad’s regime to collapse, which is precisely the message that must be received by someone who uses chemical weapons. The worst case and least likely scenario is the region spiraling into a conflagration. If you “argue” that we cannot risk this because IRAAAAAAQARGHHHH, it’s like arguing we can’t call the plumber to fix the toilet because ergle bergle. Save your breath.
We all knew Barack Obama would spend his entire presidency, however long it was, fixing what Bush broke. This is one of those things. Libya wasn’t pretty, but it was a good step. Assad is an opportunity now to do some more fixing.
This CAN work. Not always, but American military might deployed for humanitarian good saved the lives of 1 million Kosavar Albanian Muslims, Serbia is now an ally, Milosevic rotted to death in the Hague, and there’s a 10 story mural of Bill Clinton on Main Street in Pristina today. Would heaven be so kind to us in Syria.
The greater American shame is that we had to wait for atrocities of such a scale to act to defend what began as a peaceful demand for change in the streets because George W. Bush pissed our moral authority away spooking us into cowardice for a very long time. Stop giving air to Bush’s worst plague on American moral authority by insulting us with it’s irrelevant invocation as we try to erase it.
My, my. James Fallows of the Atlantic asked for emails supporting intervention in Syria, and mine (linked here at #8, printed below), apparently upset some military folk. Shocking. I suspect they are among the near unanimous military amnesia cases who all forgot they voted twice, mind you, for George W. Bush by a margin of 4-1, while living off the government teat their entire lives (which they constantly vote to deny literally anyone else, but I digress). One soldier emailed Fallows to tell me “fuck you” and Fallows paraphrased it in his headline as “shut up.” I emailed Fallows in response. Welcome.
Iraq & Afghanistan are your incompetently pursued “wars” whose logic you seek to perpetuate by hoisting it onto every question of foreign policy ad infinitum, including Syria. We no longer need to live by George W. Bush’s logic. Stop disparaging others for your own voting mistakes.
And stop voting mistakenly. We beg you. First email to Fallows begins here.
My take is based on my work in foreign affairs abroad during the time of the Kosovo campaign. All the arguments against intervention now were made then. The only difference is we have the intervening catastrophic misapplication of a good policy by George W. Bush based on lies in Iraq. To argue against intervention because George W. Bush took a good tool and used it backwards is perverse.
First, let us dispense with this notion we are “going to war”. Really? No word has suffered from hyperinflation more than the word “war” in the last 12 years since 9/11, thanks to George W. Bush calling literally everything war, begun by Ronald Reagan declaring a “war” on drugs, Lyndon Johnson declaring a “war on poverty”, and so many others declaring war on whatever the hell they feel like.
We do not know war. You do not know war. My Battle of the Bulge veteran Uncle Joe knew war. Children choking to death on chemicals in Damascus know war. Certainly in the battles on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s war, but I feel, you feel, every other American feels, precisely nothing, zero effect, from them. None. The Founding Fathers imagined war as defined in the Congressional power “to declare war” as state vs. state country vs. country existential conflict. Not lobbing missiles at chemical weapons depots. Not Kosovo. Not Syria. Stop it.
Second, if we do “go to war” (I hate even typing that tripe), it is Assad’s war not ours. How cowardly we are if we shout support for peaceful demonstrations and then turn tail and run when they get gassed. I’d love to see your own breathless support of the first marches in Homs. Perhaps our support for Arabs Springing should come with a disclaimer — Valid Unless You Get Gassed.
If it spirals out of control into a titanic conflict over the future of the Muslim world, well, how is that war our responsibility for starting? This region has boiled for decades, and in the last few years, radical Islam is facing off against secular Islam. This has been coming for a long time. America stepping in to defend our interests in our own security against chemical weapons, and defending their use on innocents is not “blood on hour hands”. Other hands became far more bloody to set these wheels in motion.
The realpolitik case. Syria has been on the edge of collapse for some time. Assad’s days are numbered. America needs to be on the right side when that happens. At the moment, we are seen by the opposition as too little too late, or worse. Several days of air strikes may tip the balance for which we would get a great deal of credit from the good guys. It’s a risk worth taking.
This has always been about Iran. Assad is Iran’s client state, it is such a bloodbath because Iran saw the Arab Spring coming and Syria was the last stop on the way to Tehran. Iran already survived such protests once, remember, in 2009, brutally. If Assad fell, Iran was next. Air strikes now send many powerful messages to Iran, its people, and the Arab world more broadly, that America can be on the right side of humanity when it matters most.
Regarding Russia…are you serious? Please. Let’s recall that Russia was a far more profound problem in Kosovo than in Syria. In fact, everyone forgets Russian tanks at the Pristina airport nearly began WW3 by mischievously occupying it. That has zero chance of happening in Syria, among much else. Arguing that Russia will somehow insert troops into this situation is ignorant folly.
And what about Israel? Syria has been THE problem in the Middle East since Assad’s daddy. I strongly expect the Mossad to take full advantage of airstrikes and go after Assad under that umbrella. The peace process, long dormant, reviving under Kerry, will benefit immeasurably from Assad’s departure.
The “what comes next” argument is not our problem, and in fact even irrelevant to the realpolitik. We are acting to defend innocent civilians from being gassed. It is no more our business what happens after Assad goes than in Egypt after Mubarak went. If Al Qaeda gains ground after Assad goes, we have a policy in place to deal with that.
This debate is shameful cowardice based on assuming all men are George W. Bush. I wrote a blog post yesterday, criticizing the insipid logic of anti-interventionists. Basically, you forget that not everything is Iraq.
After that, I got told “fuck you” by a military dude. Here’s my response.
As the target of your quoted officer, I find being told to “shut up” and “fuck you”, a fine summation of the entire anti-intervention position. Americans at large (the “we” I refer too) in fact do not know war. That members of the armed forces and their families are the only Americans who do is part of my point.
Further, if you were able to reach into the grave and inform a World War I victim of mustard gas, that a treaty would be concluded in 1925 against the use of chemical weapons to forever prevent a repeat of his hideous death, and that almost 100 years later, a member of the military that treaty was created to protect, would hide behind George W. Bush’s incompetent framing in Iraq to argue against its enforcement by telling others “Fuck you”, that doughboy would weep.
It is another cost of the Bush lies that chemical weapons killing children against every value, treaty, and international norm to which we are signatories, are met with nothing but regurgitations of Bush’s logic, even to the sublime irony of being told to shut up.
Do you not see how enslaved this argument is to Bush’s? Every argument you make against intervention is how Bush built his lie. Must have proof. Must have “slam dunk” even. Must have UN. Must have Britain. Every one else shut up. Bush had, and did, all that. And it was a lie.
If the lie is no longer there, why are you arguing within its entire framework? Why not argue this case on its own merits, instead of saying “shut up” and “fuck you”, requiring us to cross the same fraudulent thresholds Bush set up for himself to tick like boxes on a checklist?
We have an opportunity with Assad to reclaim the moral authority our country built over two centuries which Bush squandered in Iraq. We should take it. The Syrian people are begging for it.