Leon Wieseltier jumps into the debate. There is nothing there but moral preening and a refusal to engage in the actual arguments of the opponents of intervention. More to the point, a public intellectual who backed the Iraq War actually writes the following sentences:
A “senior American official who is involved in Syria policy” plaintively said this to Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker: “People on the Hill ask me, ‘Why can’t we do a no-fly zone? Why can’t we do military strikes?’ Of course we can do these things. The issue is, where will it stop?” The answer is, we don’t know. But is the gift of prophecy really a requirement for historical action? Must we know the ending at the beginning? If so, then nobody would start a business, or a book, or a medical treatment, or a love affair, let alone an invasion of Omaha Beach.
Or the Iraq war. Perhaps he has some way of relating his previous massive error of judgment to his current position. But no: the word “Iraq” appears nowhere in the piece. It is as if it never happened. How about the massive problem of how to find the right insurgents to arm? Easy as pie:
We can still create pro-Western elements in the struggle for Syria after Assad, and deny Al Qaeda a government in Damascus, and stem the tide of the refugees that is shaking the entire region.
Notice how Wieseltier echoes the worst hubris of neoconservatism here: we can “create” pro-Western elements. Just like the Bushies told us we could “create” reality. How do you prevent those pro-Western elements from being outclassed by al Qaeda elements who are now the most effective fighting force in the country? Wieseltier doesn’t say. Why does he have to? Why indeed does he need to think at all about where jumping into a war we cannot control might lead?
All this talk of exiting is designed only to inhibit us from entering. Like its cousin “the slippery slope,” “the exit strategy” is demagoguery masquerading as prudence.
Actually, it’s the exact opposite. It’s prudence against the kind of self-righteous recklessness that gave us the Iraq catastrophe. Then this further act of amnesia:
Seventy thousand people have died in the Syrian war, most of them at the hands of their ruler. Since this number has appeared in the papers for many months, the actual number must be much higher.
Does he recall how many Iraqis died in a sectarian civil war, while the US was nominally occupying the entire country? Over to Fareed Zakaria:
From 2003 to 2012, despite there being as many as 180,000 American and allied troops in Iraq, somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000 Iraqi civilians died and about 1.5 million fled the country. Jihadi groups flourished in Iraq, and al-Qaeda had a huge presence there. The U.S. was about as actively engaged in Iraq as is possible, and yet more terrible things happened there than in Syria.
But never mind. Let’s do it all over again! This infantile column would simply be simply another dumb, shallow piece if it weren’t for the moral superciliousness:
The moral dimension must be restored to our deliberations, the moral sting, or else Obama, for all his talk about conscience, will have presided over a terrible mutilation of American discourse: the severance of conscience from action.
Again, note the absolute amnesia. Because of prudent reluctance to enter a sectarian civil war in a failed Middle Eastern state, Obama has suddenly severed “conscience from action” in American government. Not the authorization of torture by Cheney (I have been unable to find a single sentence Wieseltier has written about torture or enhanced interrogations and you can see his basic acquiescence to it in this soft-ball exchange with Condi Rice, where Wieseltier echoes Rice in saying that torturing prisoners is “never a morally easy question,” when obviously it was); and not the criminal lack of preparation in occupying Iraq: these did not sever conscience from action. The only sentences I can find tackling American torture were these in his foul, McCarthyite attack on yours truly:
As far as I can tell, Krauthammer’s position on torture is owed to a deep and sometimes frantic concern for American security, and his position on the war in Gaza to a deep and sometimes frantic concern for Israeli security, and his position on Iran to a deep and sometime frantic concern for American and Israeli security. Whatever the merits of his views, I do not see that his motives are despicable.
My italics. But my essay tackling Krauthammer’s support for a new torture elite corps for the US did not question the sincerity of Krauthammer’s motives either. It merely argued passionately against his case. But notice Wieseltier’s refusal to address the substantive question of the morality of the Gestapo’s “enhanced interrogations.” A public intellectual so constantly vigilant about breaches of morality by the American government never got around to that subject, but is now claiming a moral Rubicon may be crossed because we don’t invade Syria?
I can only echo David Rieff:
Is it really too much to ask that those who supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq so enthusiastically at the time, and whose second thoughts have been far less fierce and full-throated than their initial enthusiasm, not deploy virtually the exact same crusading rhetoric about the necessity of the use of U.S. power in the name of overthrowing tyrants, and of America serving as an armed midwife to the birth of democracy in the Middle East, with regard to Syria as they did a decade ago with regard to Iraq?
Yes, apparently, it is far too much to ask.