Leave aside the fact that the intellectual architect of the Iraq War and of the Bush-Cheney torture program has the gall to call any president “incompetent.” His column today conveys a very 20th Century mindset. It’s a zero-sum world and the US must control as much of it as possible. So we have this puzzlement:
Take at face value Obama’s claim of authorship. Then why isn’t he taking ownership? Why isn’t he calling it the “U.S. proposal” and defining it? Why not issue a U.S. plan containing the precise demands, detailed timeline and threat of action should these conditions fail to be met?
Because he does not want the US to “own” Syria or this proposal. How’s that for an obvious answer that Krauthammer cannot imagine – because he is so trapped in power trips for a second American Century? But Obama, reflecting American public opinion, is perfectly happy to have Putin assume responsibility for the Middle East. Let Russia be drained, bankrupted and exhausted by managing that fractious and decreasingly important part of the world.
Then we get an honest account of what the architect of the Iraq catastrophe wants now – more enmeshment in the sectarian warfare of the Middle East:
Assad is the key link in the anti-Western Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran through Damascus and Beirut to the Mediterranean — on which sits Tartus, Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. This axis frontally challenges the pro-American Sunni Arab Middle East (Jordan, Yemen, the Gulf Arabs, even the North African states), already terrified at the imminent emergence of a nuclear Iran.
At which point the Iran axis and its Russian patron would achieve dominance over the moderate Arab states, allowing Russia to supplant America as regional hegemon for the first time since Egypt switched to our side in the Cold War in 1972.
And that would be a terrible outcome for the US because … ? He doesn’t spell it out. Here’s what I think would be a terrible outcome for the US: taking sides in the intra-Muslim endless conflict between Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam. The US has no, zero, zilch, nada reason to take such a position. It infuriates each side in turn – we backed the Shia in Iraq (Krauthammer’s bright idea) and now he wants us to back the Sunnis in Syria. This latter strategy, as Leon Wieseltier explained on AC360 Later the other night, is all about Iran. Where Krauthammer and Wieseltier agree is on perpetual conflict with Iran. Because the other thing they agree on is running American Middle East policy as if it were indistinguishable from Israel’s.
Look: If you accept their premises – that we need to be even more deeply involved in the Middle East, by joining one side in a hugely explosive religious schism – their argument makes sense. But I do not accept the premise. I think engaging in the Middle East to back one sect’s interpretation of Islam over another’s is a mug’s game – as I also think is true of the entire paradigm of unchallenged US hegemony in a uni-polar world. That hubristic, over-bearing posture all but guarantees over-reach and disaster. It has already done a huge amount to destroy this country’s reputation, and thereby soft power. It has led us to alienate almost everyone in the world, including most of our allies. At some point, we ought to question the logic of such a cycle of self-defeat.
And look: We have no serious enemy like we did with the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. No other power even faintly matches our strength. We are in a different world. Moreover, we are bankrupt as a nation.
There is no American public willingness to get involved, and any prolonged conflict right now would increase the already deep and justified disdain for meddling in the Middle East. (As they did with the Iraq war, Krauthammer and Wieseltier keep offering up the same mindset that has actually sowed the seeds for non-interventionism, but that paradox does not seem to have occurred to them.) Obama, in contrast, wants us, it seems clear to me, to withdraw from such self-defeating power trips and was elected precisely to do so. He is living up to that promise – and I see no reason to listen to the unrepentant architect of the greatest foreign policy fiasco since Vietnam when he’s simply calling – again – for a return to Bush-Cheney era policies.
This has not been Obama’s finest hour or finest month. But that should not mean taking the neocon bait of another endless, draining war in a region which has already done its bit to bankrupt us both morally and fiscally. The pressure on Obama to cave to these discredited experts is to be expected. They love to shriek and bully. The test now is not whether Obama can jump through enough hoops to please them (something he will never do anyway). The test is whether Obama can keep us out of that region’s metastasizing war and throw Putin into that nightmare. Just stop arming the Syrian rebels and don’t turn down Putin’s offer to take responsibility for all of it. Then get back to the crucial domestic challenges of immigration, healthcare and the small problem that the entire federal government could be shut down within a week.