President Barack Obama has been evidently reluctant to go to war in Syria, but has started down the long and winding road by deciding to provide weapons to the insurgents. Why he is risking involvement in another conflict in another Muslim nation is hard to fathom.
However, the president did act only after former president Bill Clinton warned that Obama could end up looking like a “total wuss” and “a total fool” if the latter did not drag America into war. If there is anyone who should not be giving war-related advice, it is Bill Clinton.
His “splendid little war” in Kosovo left a mess in its wake, including ethnic cleansing by America’s putative allies. Indeed, he always had a curious view of the purpose of war. He once expressed his frustration that he likely would not be considered a great president without prosecuting a major conflict.
Moreover, why is Clinton of all people accusing another president of looking like a “total wuss” and “a total fool” for hesitating to go to war? After all, as I relate in the American Spectator, he engaged in all manner of personal maneuvering to avoid being drafted to fight in Vietnam.
Moral Preener in Chief and a Former Moral Preener in Chief
In the context of a war that has killed some 93,000 people so far, it is not clear why the 150 or so casualties the White House attributes to chemical weapons should make a decisive difference, except that the president threatened “enormous consequences” in response to any use of such weapons. “If Mr. Obama did not respond in some fashion,” The New York Times explained, “it would have been taken as a question of credibility since he had previously said such a development would change his calculus.”
This perceived need to preserve credibility is a key ingredient in any foreign policy quagmire, since it discourages second thoughts and dictates stubborn persistence in the face of failure. No matter how misguided in theory or disastrous in practice an intervention is, changing course is always a threat to credibility, a threat that looms larger the farther a president goes down the wrong path. All the more reason to resist what Obama used to call “a war of choice.”
The case for caution is reinforced by the fact that, odious as the current government of Syria is, there is no guarantee that whatever follows it will be better, especially since the strongest element of the opposition forces is militantly anti-American. No matter what the Obama administration says about making sure that U.S. weapons go to the right rebels, it is effectively siding with Sunni extremists against Shiite extremists in a sectarian war.
Why yes, yes they do.
Even as the US effectively admits that its 12-year war in Afghanistan has failed, by agreeing to talks with the Taliban, and as British generals warn that defence-spending cuts mean the UK could not fight such wars again, the president and prime minister still attempt to rattle their broken sabres over Syria. What the final form of intervention might be remains uncertain; however reluctant they are, events can take on a momentum of their own once the interventionist snowball starts rolling downhill.
The one thing of which we can be clear enough is that, to paraphrase Brendan Behan, there is no situation so terrible that it cannot be made worse by the intervention of a semi-impotent imperialist policeman.
Unfortunately, it seems that the future Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, in Brave New World, is arriving early. Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. However, we do need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT), learn what Members of Congress pay in taxes, and prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading.