The Road to Damascus

Regarding the resolution approved by Senate committee yesterday, be afraid:

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona joined seven Democratic senators, including Barbara Boxer of California, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Chris Coons of Delaware, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Bob Menendez of New Jersey in approving the resolution.

I’m saying anything McCain, Corker and Flake approve can’t be good. On the other hand, the specimens voting against the resolution included Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. So we were screwed either way.

Seriously, my take on where the progressive/liberal/left is on this issue is that the range of opinions mostly falls from “Why are we doing this, again?” to “Hell, no.” I fall somewhere in there, myself. There are a few exceptions, mostly holding the opinion that “It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.” Not a lot of enthusiasm for bombing, in other words.

The Right is more interesting on this issue. At one end of the spectrum is Grandpa John McCain, who seems to want to nuke the entire Middle East so it will stay off his lawn. At the other end are paleo-isolationists like Rand Paul. Oh, and there’s also the genius who thinks all this hoo-haw over Syria is just to distract us from Benghazi. Idiots in clown shoes, indeed.

Assuming this resolution passes in the Senate, it’s likely to run into a brick wall in the House. Whether you are a House Democrat or a House Republican, right now I see little political risk in being against the thing. It may be that the teabagger/isolationist Right eventually will be brought to heel by the old-school neoconservative Right, but not easily, and not without considerable mess. And I don’t see opponents on the Left changing their minds, either.

A few days ago I wrote a post complaining that too much of the “debate,” such as it is, on Syria amounts to re-arguing Iraq. Whatever the merits or de-merits of bombing Syria, Syria is not Iraq any more than Iraq was the earlier Gulf War, the earlier Gulf War was Vietnam, and Vietnam was World War II. It would be really nice if people could clear their heads and look at situations as-they-are without replaying old tapes.

For example, a commenter this morning looks at the Obama White House on Syria and sees Condi Rice warning about evil centrifuge cylinders and mushroom clouds. Clear your heads, people. Don’t imagine ghoulies and beasties that aren’t there. One of these days — and I’m not saying Syria is it, because I don’t think it is — the U.S. may really need to intervene in something, and lefties will oppose it because Bush lied.

On the other hand, the Right finds itself in the unaccustomed position of being cautious. Even Liz Cheney says she opposes bombing Syria. But do they mean it? Dave Weigel writes,

This probably isn’t the curtain call for neoconservatism or for Republican interventionism, however. On Wednesday interventionists led by John McCain got the resolution they wanted through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after their preferred amendment strengthened it. But they had to overcome a growing conservative consensus that intervention doesn’t bring the results America wants. It’s a delayed—long-delayed—hangover from the debacle in Iraq.

Well, that and the fact that making President Obama look weak and ineffectual is what they live for.

Anyone looking forward from 2002 would find this party unrecognizable. Back then only six Republican members of the House, and zero in the Senate, opposed the authorization of force in Iraq. “You still had the aftertaste of 9/11, and you had popular support for it,” remembers former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis. “Everyone’s a little more war-weary after Iraq. America is out there by itself, basically—you had a coalition of the willing in 2002, and now it’s just France and the U.S. going it alone. You’ve even got some of your right-wing organs coming out against this.”

What you have is a return to the politics of 1999, when most Republicans opposed the Clinton administration’s requests for intervention in Kosovo. Kerry harked back to that war after Marino pledged not to send any more troops to their graves. “We had a 28-day campaign, there were 30,000 sorties, none of which is contemplated here, and there were zero casualties,” said Kerry. That just didn’t move Republicans at the time. “I was one of a handful of Republicans who voted for Kosovo,” remembers Davis. “The reason I did is that I didn’t want to undermine the president, and actually it worked out pretty well. You take that same rationale to Iraq, though, and you can get embarrassed.”

I’ve also read, somewhere, that some righties oppose bombing Syria because they are afraid that what happens there will reduce their chances for getting the war they really want, which is with Iran.

My prediction is that after a messy fight in the House the President will get either no authorization or one that is so restricted it amounts to no authorization, after which he will either throw up his hands and say “all right, whatever,” or choose to ignore it and bomb Syria anyway.

See also Dana Milbank, “The GOP wants to have it both ways on Syria.”

13 thoughts on “The Road to Damascus

  1. “or choose to ignore it and bomb Syria anyway”

    Well I hope he doesn’t do that. I’m hoping that the president is reluctant to attack Syria, so he has enlisted the congress, knowing that they can’t pass anything beyond renaming a post office. My hope is that the congress does not pass anything. That will give the President cover to ignore the Hawks, maybe?

  2. I just typed a long-ass comment that basically proved to me that I don’t have a clue about what I think the right course of action is in regards to Syria, so I bagged it.
    I write enough senseless and long word-turds as it is.

    Now, having said that, if you look at this from the standpoint of politics in this country, I think what the President is doing, is very smart.
    Rather than go it alone, and risk impeachment if things go badly (not that the Republicans aren’t looking around, drooling, for something, anything, to do that), he basically, and correctly, involved Congress in any decision.

    This puts the Republicans in quite a quandary.
    Which do they choose?
    Their love of bombing people in other nations (since they can’t, yet, bomb us Libtards here at home)?
    Or, piss on anything and everything the “Blah” Kenyan Usurper wants to do?
    And this time, they can’t do both. And it’s tearing them apart.
    Decisions, decision, decisions…

    My advice is, grab some popcorn, sit back, and watch the McCain war-wing and the Paul faux-peacenik’s wing, duke it out.

  3. I think David Stockman (Reagan’s former budget director), hits it on the nail in Hail to the Spanker-In-Chief: The American Imperium is Finally Over:

    Next week Congress can do far more than stop a feckless Tomahawk barrage on a small country which is already a graveyard of civil war and sectarian slaughter. By voting “no” it can trigger the end of the American Imperium—-five decades of incessant meddling, bullying and subversion around the globe which has added precious little to national security, but left America fiscally exhausted and morally diminished…

    …the proposed attack is merely designed to censure the Syrian regime for allegedly visiting one particularly horrific form of violence on its own citizens.

    Well, really? After having rained napalm, white phosphorous, bunker-busters, drone missiles and the most violent machinery of conventional warfare ever assembled upon millions of innocent Vietnamese, Cambodians, Serbs, Somalis, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemeni, Libyans and countless more, Washington now presupposes to be in the moral sanctions business? That’s downright farcical.

    …it is the backbone of the permanent warfare state bureaucracy that keeps the gambit going. Presidents come and go but it is now obvious that virtually any ideological script—left or right—can be co-opted into service of the Imperium. The Obama White House’s preposterous drive to intervene in the Syrian tinderbox with its inherent potential for fractures and blowback across the entire Middle East is being ram-roded by the dogma of “responsibility to protect”. In that context, its chief protagonists—Susan Rice and Samantha Power—-are the moral equivalent of Bush’s neo-con hit-men, Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz. In both cases, ideological agendas which have absolutely nothing to do with the safety of the American people were enabled to activate the awful violence of the American war machine mainly because it was there, marching in place waiting for an assignment.

  4. I just wish that John Kerry, who seems honestly upset about defending an international norm on chemical weapons, would get equally exercised about defending the international norm that countries don’t attack other countries without the UN saying they should.

    Yeah, I know that everyone agrees the Russians or the Chinese would block any Security Council resolution. But could we at least go through the motions, and make them do it? Who knows, they might surprise us, if we have better evidence than Colin Powell did in that little glass bottle.

    It’s bad enough that we are being all sanctimonious after having helped Saddam gas Iranians, but when we keep failing to remember that we have a system in place for enforcing international norms, it just makes me mad.

    (And god forbid we actually talk about arranging the negotiations we claim is the end-game we want to reach by blowing up stuff real good. Sheesh.)

  5. I have no idea what we ought to be doing. I just don’t like the idea the world is going to sit here and let Assad get away with this. I think what I’d really like to see is someone, anyone, just assassinate him. I don’t even care if it’s Navy Seals or the CIA., though I’d prefer it be an Arab League operative.

    I do think part of the President’s plan here though is to wreak a little more havoc in the GOP.

  6. I am and always have been anit-war. Vietnam just tore my generation apart. Plus, I believe the middle east needs to solve its own problems. I cannot see how America can take the moral high ground because the Iraq war was illegal and immoral. Additionally, America used phosphorous gas when the destruction of Fallujah was executed. If I remember correctly, it also seemed that many Iraqis left their country for Syria. Are any of the problems in Syria complicated by this mass migration of Iraqis? And, it seems that even the Syrian people are divided into too many interest groups to articulate their needs. Everything I have read about the middle east indicates to me that the two Americans who have the most knowledge of the area are Juan Cole and Jimmy Carter. I wish the President and Congress (although thinking any common sense will come from Congress is probably a wasted thought) would consult with these two men and some others who don’t have other agendas that usually center around Israel. Bottom line, I just think America should stay the heck out of this mess.

  7. The Road to Damascus..

    Wasn’t that a movie with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby?

    A bit more seriously, the pivot to ask for Congressional approval is creating chaos and division among both parties, but more in the GOP, I think. It’s amazing that the coalition of neocons, isolationists, religious wackos plus fiscal lunatics has held together this long. Democrats tend to make a frontal assault but think along the lines of how Gandalf (in The Hobbit) kept the trolls quarreling between themselves until the dawn turned them to stone.

    The best strategy for beating the GOP may be to turn them lose against each other. The only thing they have in common is that they hate progressives. Instead of promoting progressive ideals as the centerpiece of debate, why not put a spotlight on the contradictions and inherent philosophical conflicts between libertarian independence and the religious nuts who want the government to regulate morality. Likewise economic policy.. immigration reform. It’s a pretty long list. Let them talk themselves out of any favor with moderates.

  8. The US (Obama, and before him, Bush, etc) does this only because they can…anything resembling moral or ethical accountability is a joke.

    It would be really nice if people could clear their heads and look at situations as-they-are without replaying old tapes.

    Right! because situation ethics sans history/memory/learning is just so fucking awesome. No context required.

  9. “or choose to ignore it and bomb Syria anyway”

    From what I gather Obama has already made the determination to bomb Syria. I just can’t understand how that is going to reform Assad or deter him from using chemical weapons in the future. Unless Obama strikes on an unprecedented scale it’s just going to make Obama look inept like he’s trying to save face.
    I’m sure that Assad will be sitting in one of his palaces just grieving over the loss some military hardware or a few hundred troops from his Republican Guard.
    The only option that I can see that would be effective is to hold Assad personally responsible and direct all efforts to send a message that use of chemical weapons will not go unpunished on a personal level.
    Obama can issue a bounty on Assad’s life. He can present whatever evidence he has to the world court and have Assad tried in absentia. He can declare him a terrorist and actively hunt him down because Bush has already done the ground work. With a little creativity he make Assad’s experience on earth a bit unpleasant.
    I’m aware of the hypocrisy that’s apparent by the US claiming the moral high ground but Obama is right to at least try to reestablish or defend values that are important to humanity.

  10. I once heard the difference between a cult and a church is the amount of real estate owned.perhaps the definition of terrorism is similar. One guy setting off a bomb is terrorism; a nation dropping a bunch of bombs is ” sending a message “. Sadly, I haven’t enough money to run off to new Zealand and observe this freak show from afar.

  11. So many variables… on the one hand the tea-party prime directive is No on O; on the other hand this is a war, so how can they resist? It turns out this isn’t a left versus right debate, this is a top versus bottom debate. And haven’t we heard all the lines before, from the same discredited pundits?

    Speaking of credibility; the search for credibility is a delusion. The world is full of incredible things, yet it continues to turn on its axis. To claim credibility is to claim foresight on the world, which is unpredictable; an impossible task! Therefore ‘credibility’ is jinxed; if you claim it, then you’re incredible!

    For now I’m hoping that Republican obstructionism is stronger than their militarism. My dream is that Obama throws this fight, partly to give his opponents a break, partly from constitutional principle, and partly because going ahead would destroy him. My nightmare is that he goes ahead.

    If he does, why? Because he’s been ending two wars, and the system needs wars; that’s its normal, ‘peaceful’, condition. War is peace! Without a war, the system will collapse!

    And if he doesn’t, what then? Suppose Congress stops this war, and our presence in Afghanistan ends on schedule, and we run out of war? What if the economy then _doesn’t_ collapse?

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