Marching As To War? Ctd

A reader quotes my post from yesterday morning:

For me, the administration hasn’t even begin to present a coherent, let alone a persuasive argument. The congressional debate is absolutely the best forum for this debate to take place – just as the House of Commons was in Britain. If the Congress votes no – which, given the current arguments, it obviously should – then the president should accede to the wishes of the American people as voiced by their representatives. If he were to do that, the kind of transformation Obama promised in America’s foreign policy would be given a huge boost.

Perhaps I am giving too much credit to our president, but for a while I have been wondering if that wasn’t his endgame all along. He is marching well in step with his predecessor, jumping through every hoop to plead the case for war. However, he is doing it in such a way as to fail to convince a war-weary public of its necessity, rightness, goals and likelihood of success. Could it be that he is seeking an end result in which (a) the U.S. does NOT get involved in another quagmire, (b) the power of the presidency to wage war at will is curtailed, and (c) both (a) and (b) are accomplished without any accusations of “weakness” from the right wing?

If so, meep meep.

If so … And I sure hope that’s the case. What I fear is Obama’s liberal interventionist side (see above), enabled by aides like Samantha Power and Susan Rice and John Kerry. Hagel, who was supposed to push back against these utopians, seems neutered by them. But, yes, it’s always good to look at the longer term view with Obama. If the House turns him down, it seems to me he will be saved from his own predicament. He may even try to go to the UN, especially now that Putin has signaled some readiness to consider a resolution using force. Another reader sees another sign of a possible long game:

You’re missing a meep-meep moment. A few days ago the media generally, and the right-wing media especially, were crowing that this showed how weak Obama was. Now he has the Republican leadership lining up behind him, giving him cover.

Yep, it was a great bait-and-switch. But I just don’t believe that Obama is that sneaky. From all I can tell, he has been simply flailing, and a Congressional vote merely offers him some time to come to his senses. Another doesn’t buy the long-game argument at all:

I guess I’m not surprised, but your editorial fails to highlight the degree to which Obama dragged us into this mess. I find myself incapable of agreeing with either side – I can’t fathom how we could possibly intervene for the better, and I can’t fathom how we could possibly sit this out – but I am stunned and embarrassed by how Obama has handled this.

He seems to have confirmed every single Fox Newsy critique of his foreign policy in one fell swoop: by flip-flopping, he comes across as indecisive; by setting a red line, then President Obama Departs The White Houseletting Assad march right across it with no consequence to date, he has weakened the United States in a way I never thought imaginable. He has done so by hanging Kerry out to dry; by letting this decision be made by a Congress he knows will do anything it can to undermine him; by sending a signal to Israel, Turkey and Jordan that the US can’t/won’t act even when it promises it would; by allowing Cameron to fail so spectacularly, and, a decade after Bush, having once again only one single military ally, this time France, he makes us look like a smack-talking weakling.

And this is all coming from someone who not only enormously respects Obama, but also agrees with him policy-wise, almost down the line, and certainly in this arena. Had Obama made a strong case for intervention and decisively taken out Assad’s air force, which, by the way, seems like a very capable goal and a very effective one vis a vis the way in which he is terrorizing his population – I would have been on board. Had Obama decided that it wasn’t worth the risk, the capital, whatever, I could have been convinced. I really see no good options, and therefore no incorrect ones.

But this weak, dithering refusal to make a real decision – again, I am stunned. He has punted this decision to the fools in Congress – something I totally could support had he not suddenly decided to do this at the last minute, after being smeared in Britain – and has walked back his own self-imposed red line. He has sent a message to Assad (and Iran) that, hey, do what you want, and we’ll try to maybe figure something out, but we don’t really have the will. Its just a fucking disaster – and so out of character with who I thought this man was. I didn’t think it would be possible for him to piss off Samantha Power, John McCain, the irresponsible pacifists and the right-wing military crowd, all at the same time – but lo and behold, here we are.

And if you don’t think, however this plays out, that this won’t be one of the main talking points in November 2014 when the Republicans up their numbers in Congress, you are out of your mind. The only winner here: Hillary Clinton and her team, who had been itching to get into Syria months ago, and who now have the distance they need from Obama to win back the neo-connish Dems and turn her policy rightward.

What a fucking mess.

I guess I was lucky not to have watched this fucking mess unspool while I was on vacation. The last thing it suggests is any coherent strategy from the president. Maybe it will shake out for the better – but Obama should have the balls to insist that we cannot stop WMD use in Syria or nuclear development in Iran just as we could not repair Iraq’s sectarian conflict. Another criticizes Obama on a different front:

I’m in much agreement with your post “Marching As To War?” – with one caveat. While I certainly agree with you on the importance, if action is to be taken, of Obama getting congressional approval, I am extremely concerned with something Obama isn’t doing: taking any steps towards an international consensus.

Even Bush got a first UN resolution, a confirmation that everyone agreed that if Iraq had WMDs, they had to give them up. Even Bush established a “coalition of the willing” to demonstrate it wasn’t just the US. (Though the “coalition of the willing” still set a dangerous precedent on the use of force against a country that was not really threatening the security of other countries.) The whole development of international law norms has been to deter countries from doing exactly what Obama is doing.

Somehow I don’t see the US doing this if, say, Russia committed atrocities in Chechnya or China gasses some dissidents. But this is a terrible precedent to hand to the likes of Putin or a Third World dictator. If the US attacks Syria, I completely expect that to be the comeback given when a friendly government and friendly oil concessions are installed in some African nation by Russia or a neighbour after, say, a massacre they can vaguely plausibly claim involved war crimes or even genocide.

I hate to describe Obama as worse than Bush on anything, but he’s going that way on this issue and unfortunately it seems the congressional leadership is too terrified of being seen as soft on terrorism that they’ll back his play even though their constituents don’t.

One more reader:

I wanted to share with you a link to retired Lieutenant Colonel and former West Point instructor David Fitzpatrick’s recent post on Syria at “The Edge of the American West”, a history blog hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. I hope Fitzpatrick’s piece is read and circulated by those with the means to generate discussion and pressure for an official response, because the questions it raises are ones which must be answered not just with regard to Syria. Within them lies the specter of Rwanda and a debate about the application of the UN’s responsibility to protect a mandate. At the same time, Fitzpatrick’s questions also demand examining our response to other conflicts, conflicts like the still-ongoing genocide and war in Darfur, which had already claimed between 178,258 and 461,520 lives based on figures published in The Lancet three years ago.

The President has consistently demonstrated he feels the United States has a moral imperative to act in these situations. He said as much in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and said as much with regard to Darfur as a candidate for President in 2007, as you can see in [the above video].

With his power as Commander in Chief, I don’t think he’s wrong to feel a moral responsibility to intervene if he believes intervention stands a chance of making a substantial positive difference. (I do disagree with him on whether he ought to act on this felt responsibility.) But, as an Iraq War veteran, I think he also has a responsibility – to his subordinates in the military who will carry out the mission, and to the nation itself – to answer questions like the ones Fitzpatrick raises, and to explain why situations like the ones in Syria or Libya demand forceful American intercession, and why that same America allows situations like the one in Darfur to persist and even worsen. Every member of Congress ought to ask one another the same questions as they prepare to vote on a Syria resolution, and every member of Congress ought to thoroughly explain their answers to their constituents.

One final remark. I left the Marine Corps in 2006. These days I am a graduate student who teaches history at the University of Wisconsin. Yesterday, as I listened to John Kerry equivocate in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding an agreement to prohibit deploying troops on the ground in Syria, I have decided to share Fitzpatrick’s post with my students, who are just beginning a semester of immersion in the Vietnam War. In years past our conversations in class invariably include the enduring echoes of Vietnam in America, so Fitzpatrick’s post seems apt.

I also remember visiting my parents on my Iraq post-deployment leave in October 2004. While I was in home I voted absentee in that autumn’s election. With two years remaining on my enlistment and desperately hoping my commander-in-chief (and especially his cronies Cheney and Rumsfeld) would be voted out of office, I nonetheless couldn’t bring myself to cast a ballot for then-Senator Kerry. Despite the outcome of that election, I have never regretted that decision. Every so often, since the day he voted for the Iraq war, this Vietnam veteran has opened his mouth and reminded Americans why he had no business being elected President in 2004. Secretary Kerry seems to be the living embodiment of “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt,” for surely a fool is a man possessing Kerry’s wealth of experience and a dearth of comprehension of that same experience.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)