The Ghosts Of Iraq Haunt Syria

Larison dismisses the argument that anti-interventionists are suffering from “Iraq Syndrome”:

[T]his is becoming a common way to describe the absolutely justifiable and sane reaction of the public and even many in Washington to the disaster of the Iraq war. Interventionists call this a syndrome because it is supposed to be seen as an affliction or something from which Americans need to recover, as if there were something unhealthy or harmful in becoming extremely wary of waging wars of choice in countries that we don’t understand very well for dubious and often unobtainable goals. On the contrary, the existence of this so-called “syndrome” is proof that the public is very sensibly recoiling from the repeated misjudgments and mistakes of their political leaders.

Most Americans are firmly against making yet another major foreign policy error, and what they keep hearing from Washington and from much of the media is that they are suffering from some kind of malady that needs to be cured with another war.

This truly is becoming a battle between the Washington war-machine and the people it is supposed to protect. And yes, Iraq is relevant. Of course it is relevant. And no, as Daniel argues, this is not a syndrome. It is not a syndrome to look twice before crossing the street, when you have been run over by a truck twice in the last decade. In any case, the parallels are so close as to be almost absurd. The president is trying to get support for a military campaign against a Baathist leader in a murderously divided Middle Eastern country in order to prevent the use of WMDs and to send a message to Iran. I mean: is there any more obvious analogy? Now I know the president has ruled out “boots on the ground”. But there are already boots on the ground, in a covert war the war-machine has already launched. And, as John Kerry was forced to concede, entering this conflict could quite easily require troops in the near or distant future if we are not to be seen as having empowered Assad rather than removed him.

And the same people and factions that backed that war are now backing this one: the full neocon chorus, AIPAC, the liberal internati0nalists, the Clintons, McCain, and on and on. Since no true accountability for that catastrophe was ever exacted, we are forced to endure the utterly discredited Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz and Fouad Ajami make exactly the same arguments they made then. And yet this time, the man we elected not to repeat the Iraq disaster, the man who only holds the office he does because of his wise opposition to that war, is now apparently eager to risk a repeat of it.

Let’s be clear. The administration is losing this argument, and looks likely to lose the Congress. There are four times as many anti-war votes right now as pro-war ones in the House. The public remains opposed. Only neocons are backing the president forcefully, if he assents to their full-war agenda. The minute he doesn’t launch a full-scale war, they will abandon him. That’s already a horrible reminder that if the president decides to risk his entire second term on this quixotic act of neocon symbolism, he will be very alone very fast, with no country and no Congress behind him and not even the Brits offering some fig leaf of international support.

But in every crisis there is an opportunity.

Lose the vote, don’t go to war, but go to the UN repeatedly and insistently. Gather more and more evidence. Get Ambassador Power to pummel the Russians and Chinese with their grotesque refusal to do anything about this ghastly mass murder. Expose Putin for the brutal thug that he is. And focus on the huge challenges at home: a still-weak economy, a huge overhaul of healthcare, a golden opportunity for immigration reform. That’s why he was elected. And his domestic legacy is at a pivotal point.

I know opposing this president is painful for so many who want him to succeed. It’s painful – agonizing – for me. I understand his genuine and justified revulsion at this use of chemical arms and the wanton, hideous brutality of the Assad regime. I deeply respect his moral stand. He is right that the international community should not stand by. But America cannot be the sucker who is responsible for countering all evil in the world and then blamed for every success and failure. We must not become the sole actor against evil in the world, and not only because, at this point, after GTMO and Abu Ghraib and pre-emptive war, we have no standing to do so. We simply do not have the ability or the resources to do it. We’re as fiscally bankrupt as we are militarily incapable of fighting other people’s wars for them. And asking the military to do another impossible job in another Middle East hell-hole is grotesquely irresponsible.

We should make our case to the world and if we fail, as Obama clearly is, we should accept that and move this drama to a diplomatic stage. Yes, I know the horrors endure. I am not looking away. But if you cannot end someone else’s brutality without profoundly wounding yourself and empowering this vicious little creep at the same time, you should simply keep making your case – until Putin and Assad are close to indistinguishable, and moderate elements in Iran begin to gulp at the barbarism in plain sight.

That will take time; and patience, and resolve. But it’s a far wiser path forward than another unpredictable, horrible, bankrupting war.