The Fierce Urgency of No

by Michael Walsh

Republicans pondering whether to follow the John McCain–Lindsey Graham–Joe Lieberman kamikaze wing of the Grand Old Party along the road to perdition in Syria need to put aside for the moment the larger moral questions about possible intervention: the fixation on President Obama’s invisible “red line,” the use of chemical weapons (by somebody), and whether it sends the wrong kind of signal to a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran if we let Assad (or whomever) get away with it. That’s all for show, a standard-issue lefty false flag operation that conveniently employs a “moral” cover while trying to accomplish something else entirely.

First of all, let’s dispense with the false dichotomy of the “interventionists” and the “isolationists.” To somehow equate not wishing to intervene in the Syrian civil war with the isolationism of American leaders during the period between the wars is ludicrous. Let’s go to the videotape:

During the 1930s, the combination of the Great Depression and the memory of tragic losses in World War I contributed to pushing American public opinion and policy toward isolationism. Isolationists advocated non-involvement in European and Asian conflicts and non-entanglement in international politics. Although the United States took measures to avoid political and military conflicts across the oceans, it continued to expand economically and protect its interests in Latin America. The leaders of the isolationist movement drew upon history to bolster their position. In his Farewell Address, President George Washington had advocated non-involvement in European wars and politics. For much of the nineteenth century, the expanse of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans had made it possible for the United States to enjoy a kind of “free security” and remain largely detached from Old World conflicts. During World War I, however, President Woodrow Wilson made a case for U.S. intervention in the conflict and a U.S. interest in maintaining a peaceful world order. Nevertheless, the American experience in that war served to bolster the arguments of isolationists; they argued that marginal U.S. interests in that conflict did not justify the number of U.S. casualties.

One can be a geo-political “interventionist,” even a strategist, and still see a chess move that does not involve becoming entangled in Syria as the best option. The U.S. has no vital interests in a fabricated “country” ruled by the vestige of a pro-Soviet, socialist, Arab-nationalist ”party” that collapsed in Iraq and whose rotting corpse in Damascus emits the redolent whiff of 1960s’ Nasserism. In other words, Assad is doomed no matter what he does, and if he wants to get an idea of the fate that awaits him, he need only consult the ghost of the Baathist leader next door in Iraq. Maybe he and the missus could ask their former friends, John Kerry and Anna Wintour, for safe passage to Costa Rica or somewhere where the food is good and the fashion sense not intolerable. 

But Barack Obama has never given the slightest indication that he knows, or cares, anything about foreign policy or the Great Game, whose descendant the current crisis is; President Present has more domestic fish to fry. By publicly pantsing his secretary of state and tossing Syria back to a vacationing Congress, he and his political advisers think they’re being clever. As David Axelrod smirked, “Congress is now the dog that caught the car.” Which is precisely why Congress should do what dogs do: bark lustily and then go home. 

The idea is that, no matter what Congress does, Obama can blame it for the adverse results of anything he does (and there will be adverse results) and then campaign against obstructionist Republicans to accomplish the only strategic goal that matters to Democrats: recapturing the House and holding the Senate in 2014. And then, in the final two years of the administration, “fundamental transformation” will be unstoppable.

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t — that’s the cynical calculation coming out of the White House and its No-Rush-to-War president. Obama’s very lack of urgency speaks to the symbolic nature of his proposed military action. And his out clause — that he won’t necessarily be bound by Congress, no matter what it says — only reinforces the notion that this is simply a political ploy designed to put his real enemies — conservatives — on the spot. He’s preparing an enfilade — so, of course, McCain and Co. will walk right into it. 

Unless Congress just says no. If Obama’s going to attack Syria — a “country” that’s done nothing to us — then why rubber-stamp his decision? Better to vote it down, bipartisanly and decisively, and let the president own it. Jennifer Rubin, an interventionist, gets this aspect of the discussion right:

It is a sorry sight indeed to see the president put his desire to “get” his domestic political opponents above all else. The delay, notwithstanding Kerry’s assurances, means that Syrian assets can be hidden, our operations may become more difficult, more Syrians can be gassed (or killed by conventional means), and jihadists, Syrians and Iranians can crow. Meanwhile, the president’s punt has no doubt unnerved allies. And to what end? To lessen his own risk and rope Congress into his muddled policy.

This isn’t the first time, however, that Obama has put politics above matters of life and death. Recall that he changed the Afghanistan withdrawal schedule to line up nicely with the 2012 election. There was no military justification for that.

Although she gets this bit wrong:

Turning to Congress, I regret that members on both sides of the aisle will allow partisanship, rather than policy, to guide them in the congressional debate. The chance to blast the ball right back at Obama with a “no” vote and thereby weaken him is appealing in some GOP quarters. 

Some? It should be appealing in all GOP quarters. John Yoo has argued persuasively here on NRO that any president has the power to go to war on his own toot. Since Congress has no power constrain the decision-making process, it should go on record and then, citing the Constitution, step back and let the world’s most bellicose Nobel Peace Prize recipient do what he’s going to do anyway. For once, polls are running in favor of the “isolationists” — who are better characterized as “realists.” Which naturally means the McCain-led Republicans will get on the wrong side of the American people yet again.

Still, the voters are watching, and they’ll know whose neck to hang the Syrian intervention around when it proves useless or, more likely, disastrous. And maybe next time they’ll think more carefully about the man with whom they entrust the role of commander-in-chief.

UPDATE: Another member of the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Government, speaker of the House John Boehner, has now weighed in on the side of Obama and McCain: 

House Speaker John Boehner says he will support President Barack Obama’s call for the U.S. to take action against Syria for alleged chemical weapons use and says his Republican colleagues should support the president, too.

The Ohio Republican says the use of chemical weapons must be responded to. He says only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Syrian President Bashar Assad and warn others around the world that such actions will not be tolerated.

Said Boehner: “This is something that the United States as a country needs to do.”

He spoke at the White House Tuesday after he and other congressional leaders met with Obama.

Isn’t the two-party system great?

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