From the Wednesday edition of the Morning Jolt:
Persuasion Tip: Stop Comparing Your Old ‘Partner for Peace’ to Hitler
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, President George H. W. Bush did the improbable and convinced Syrian President Hafez Assad to join an American-led coalition against a fellow Baathist regime.
Today, these leaders’ sons have another chance for a diplomatic breakthrough that could redefine the strategic landscape in the Middle East.
. . . While many doubt Syria’s intentions, we have real leverage and some inducements that have more value to Syria than cost to us. There is no guarantee of an agreement, but the potential payoff is huge, and our current policy is failing.
Of course, that was 110,000 dead and a couple of nerve-gas attacks ago. The desire to punish a murderous, brutal dictator for using abominable weapons is good and noble and right. But it’s insufferable to be told that we have to do this, by the crowd that a half-decade ago kept telling us how wrong we were about Bashar Assad, and how he was just a misunderstood, reasonable reformer.
During a debate, Obama said he was willing to meet with Assad in the first year of his administration. (The summit never took place.) Pelosi did meet with him, and said afterwards, “We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” Kerry met with him at least six times. Now Kerry tells us, “Bashar al-Assad now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein who have used these weapons in time of war,” and he’s alluding to the Holocaust.
You spent much of the past decade insisting we judged Assad too harshly. Let’s see some humility, fellas.
On Tuesday, the two guys who five years ago confidently assured the world of Assad’s value as a partner for peace went before the Senate and confidently assured the country that the administration’s plan for limited long-distance airstrikes would be quick and effective.
Hagel’s testimony showcased how the conventional wisdom about him was almost entirely wrong. Remember, he was supposed to be the quasi-isolationist budget-cutter who wanted to disengage from the Middle East. Perhaps he still is, and he’s stifling what he really believes in service to the president. Or perhaps he never really meant it, and merely grasped that the media would embrace and adore him as a veteran anti–Iraq War Republican. Or perhaps he’s not really sure what he thinks.
“Wait, you’re serious? You want me to go to the Hill and get them to sign off on this?”
War Salesman Hagel sounded quite different from War-Weary Skeptic Hagel — particularly when discussing Syria.
“I think we’ve got to be very wise and careful on this and continue to work with the multilateral institutions in the lead in Syria. I don’t think America wants to be in the lead on this,” he said. “What you have to do is manage the problem. You manage it to a higher ground of possible solutions, ultimately to try to get to a resolution. You don’t have control over what’s going on in Syria.”
“You’ve got to be patient, smart, wise, manage the problem,” he said.
“We’ve got to understand great-power limitations. There are so many uncontrollable variables at play in Syria and the Middle East,” Hagel said. “You work through the multilateral institutions that are available, the U.N., the Arab league. The last thing you want is an American-led or Western-led invasion into Syria.”
Lesson: Nobody really knows how cabinet appointments will turn out. Foreign Policy magazine, back in December 2012:
With Hagel at the helm, Obama could proceed even more quickly with cutting the defense budget and retrenching abroad, while largely neutering his Republican adversaries. . . . He would also be a likely opponent of direct American intervention in Syria and push for as small a remaining military force in Afghanistan as possible. His entire thrust is to emphasize diplomacy over brute power. Hagel’s doctrine is crystal clear: No matter how well-intentioned America may be, it cannot single-handedly impose democracy abroad.
Chuck Hagel, back in 2007:
I have to say this is one of the most arrogant, incompetent administrations I’ve ever seen or ever read about. . . . They have failed the country.
The job’s a little harder than it looked from the outside, huh, Mr. Secretary?
Yesterday Ron Johnson, Wisconsin, asked a devastating question:
You say this is the world’s red line, not ours, and I agree. So how many partners will we have with us?
If sending troops is the price of stopping chemical attacks, almost all of the nations in the world are actually perfectly okay with chemical attacks, as long as they’re not downwind.