I was infuriated by the goading tone of John McCain’s questioning of Obama officials during yesterday’s Senate hearing on military intervention in Syria. His goal went far beyond supporting such an attack. He tried to shame Kerry and Hegel into admitting that the U.S. should paralyze the Assad regime and degrade it to the point that it would fall. He didn’t use the “RC” words, but he might as well have. To be clear, what the former flyboy wants is some real fireworks over Damascus, not just Shock and Awe Lite. He wants the U.S. military to overthrow Assad or at least pave the way toward that objective.
To be clear, I have no problem with toppling Assad. If the Syrian rebels or Turkey or someone else wants to take on that job it won’t bother me. But it is not the job of the United States to tell Syria who should be its leader. We’ve done that far too often in the past, mostly to disastrous results.
Returning to McCain, what insults me about such Congressional theatrics is that while senators are preening before the cameras, often back home constituents oppose the very ideas people like McCain are espousing. 9% of Americans support military intervention. Yet John McCain acts as if it’s self-evident that the whole world wants Damascus to burn.
What sealed it for me was a reporter discovering that when McCain wasn’t in the limelight he was using his iPhone to play electronic poker. How’s that for fiddling while advocating that Rome burn?
Apparently, our generals don’t want to go to war either. In the pages of the Washington Post, a retired major general recounts the scores of communications he’s received from active duty personnel who want nothing to do with Obama’s ill-conceived plans. Though there are aspects of his op-ed with which I strongly disagree, there is also much wisdom:
So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective.
…They [U.S. military personnel] are outraged by the fact that what may happen is an act of war and a willingness to risk American lives to make up for a slip of the tongue about “red lines.” These acts would be for retribution and to restore the reputation of a president. Our serving professionals make the point that killing more Syrians won’t deter Iranian resolve to confront us.
There’s also an interesting dynamic playing out in the world of media and think tanks regarding Syrian intervention. I’m pleased that the International Crisis Group, under the leadership of CEO (and former UN war crimes investigator) Louise Arbour, has taken a strong stand against Obama’s war, calling it “a fool’s errand.” ICG is one of the foremost NGOs advocating for international law, peace and stability. I strongly urge you to read the entire statement.
Truly strange though, is the position adopted by Tom Friedman. Calling it (typically awkwardly) “Arm and Shame,” Friedman too comes out against direct U.S. intervention. He wisely (and I had to hesitate before typing that word) sees the pitfalls in a military attack. Instead, he argues that our only options are to bolster the moderate rebel forces, arm them, and drag the tyrant and his coterie before an international tribunal at the earliest possible date. Both he and we know that this isn’t an optimal solution. Waiting for a dictator to fall isn’t nearly as satisfying as going in and doing the job yourself. But that temptation is to be resisted because neither we nor the Syrians want us around for the aftermath. Or to paraphrase Colin Powell: once you break it, you own it. The U.S. already has at least two failed states on its plate (Afghanistan and Iraq) and doesn’t need another.
Speaking of ‘breaking it,’ the NY Times published this shocking portrait of Syrian rebel brutality in today’s paper. If anyone thinks that the rebels have the high moral ground this is must reading. Even if you don’t believe in the righteousness of the rebel cause, anyone supporting intervention must concede that our attack on Assad must perforce give strength to butchers like those portrayed by C.J. Chivers. We may even help them eventually take over Syria, whether we intend this or not.
Returning to Friedman, he is a liberal hawk usually firmly in support of the exercise of U.S. power. He supported the Iraq war. I can’t think of a recent U.S. military adventure he’s opposed. His turnabout makes for strange, and interesting bedfellows.
For those supporting a military strike, who believe that our mission will be limited and our attack precise, read this article which describes the expansion of the list of military targets the U.S. military is considering striking. Undoubtedly, this more “robust” set of attack priorities reflects the hectoring McCain gave the government witnesses at the Senate hearing. Obama, being the manly man he is, can’t stand to have his machismo questioned by someone like McCain. And don’t think the GOP hawk wasn’t smart enough to play on that dynamic precisely.
Roger Cohen is another liberal pro-interventionist hawk like Friedman. True to form, he takes a firm position advocating punishing Assad with a military assault. Cohen, whose reporting during the 2009 Iran Green Revolution, was masterful and courageous, doesn’t rise to the occasion when it comes to anything related to Israel. He’s repeatedly and fraudulently ridiculed the one-state solution, claiming two-states is the only reasonable choice to resolve the conflict. He’s a valuable asset for the Israel Lobby because of his sterling liberal credentials. He’s a liberal Zionist, but one with a conscience. Even better, a conflitced conscience. With the loss of Friedman as a reliable media ally, Cohen fills the bill nicely.
I’d venture to guess that if the U.S. attacked Iran, Cohen would be for it as well. Because it would “make Israel safer.” I hope we don’t have to find out the answer to which way he’d go on that question.
Speaking of Israel, Jodi Rudoren, who last week swore that Israel was neutral on the Syria fight, has changed her tune. Now she concedes that Israel not only favors a U.S. attack, but a perpetual stalemate that would mean neither side would win and hundreds of thousands more average Syrians would die. Here is a perfect example of the ghoulish strategic thinking of Israeli officials (keep in mind that this guy is a former diplomat of the Labor Party, with a liberal reputation):
“This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death…”
What missing from this calculation? Any concern for Syrian civilians who will suffer the brunt of this quagmire war. So before John Kerry gets on his high horse warning this is a “Munich Moment” and thundering about making Assad pay a price for his crimes against humanity, let us pause to consider that we may contribute to many of these deaths ourselves by inducing the stalemate.
I’ve decried many times here the lack of moral substance to Israel’s foreign policy. It is a strategic policy of interests devoid of values. If those interests included those of other nations than Israel alone, it might be justifiable. But Israeli policy is totally monomaniacal. It serves itself alone. Everyone else, including allies, be damned.
The most depressing thing about Israel’s stalemate policy is that the first time I saw it advocated publicly was by none other than Daniel Pipes:
Evil forces pose less danger to us when they make war on each other. This (1) keeps them focused locally and it (2) prevents either one from emerging victorious (and thereby posing a yet-greater danger). Western powers should guide enemies to stalemate by helping whichever side is losing, so as to prolong their conflict.
To have the one of the worst Islamophobic ghouls in the world as an inspiration for Israeli policy is truly frightening. Not to Israel clearly. But to others who aren’t quite as warped by hate and intolerance.
Israel’s classic substitute for a strategy is to sow discord and division among enemies so that they’ll fight among themselves rather than unite against Israel. They used it in Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, and now Syria. It’s a helluva stupid approach, but seems to have worked in terms of allowing them to put off painful decisions and compromises for decades.