Ten years ago, the United States started a war against Iraq on false pretenses. The Bush administration lied about and manipulated intelligence to convince the American public that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapons), and was actively trying to attain others (nuclear weapons). What boggles the mind is that, in the runup to that war in 2002-2003, it was transparently obvious to anyone paying attention (or not blinded by the cult of Neoconservatism) that the Bush administration was manufacturing its justifications for war. The result we’ve become all-too familiar with: a protracted war which we did not win, drained the Treasury, and cost the lives of over a hundred thousand people.
Now here we are, ten years later, and a hostile regime in the Middle East has used chemical weapons against its own people in a civil war that has killed over a hundred thousand people. In this instance, the war has already been raging, and the evidence of WMDs has, tragically, come after the fact. But, as of this weekend, it looks like the United States won’t be doing a damn thing about it.
What a contrast. Ten years ago we went big on a war based on magician’s smoke. This year, we stand poised to thwart a military action which will consist of nothing more than a few days of cruise missile strikes and which is based on real facts. There is hardly a constituency anywhere in this country that supports any action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Poll after poll shows opposition from the left, from the right, and from the squishy center. This country has had enough of war, and members of Congress have, for once, picked up on this.
This is the damage George W. Bush and his cronies did to this country. For the first time since the days following the September 11th attacks, a legitimate case can be made for military action, and it appears the effort is going to go down to defeat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The strangest thing about public sentiment against the war is how closely it’s hewing to hysteria. There’s nothing wrong with being against war. It’s a noble stand that has been demonized far too often in our nation’s history, but before now, it hasn’t seemed to be tinged with such notes of paranoia and misplaced emotions. This past week, Senator John McCain hosted a town hall meeting in Arizona and he was repeatedly faced with unhinged opposition from constituents who decried putting our troops once more into harm’s way. No matter how much he tried to reason, no matter how many times McCain pointed out the facts, that there will be no ground action in support of this proposed mission, there were folks in the town hall who just wouldn’t listen. This debate has descended to a bizarre place where facts have given way to feeling. It reminds me of the cognitive dissonance surrounding the tea party opposition to the healthcare law. Indeed, much of the opposition to any Syria strike is coming from the same people.
But they aren’t alone. Moveon.org is releasing an anti-war ad that specifically preys on fears of more American troops coming home in flag-draped boxes. This is an unconscionable distortion of what President Obama has planned.
So what, then, does happen if the president’s resolution to take action against Syria goes down to defeat in Congress? At this point, no one seems to know. It was quite a curveball the president threw last week when he said he would seek a resolution from Congress. In 2007, he made clear that he believed it was unconstitutional for a president to order military action without Congressional approval if the nation wasn’t threatened, but once in the Oval Office, presidents rarely feel constrained by statements made before they took the oath of office, especially if those statements contradict policy. It appears that public sentiment, combined with the defeat of a similar resolution in Britain’s House of Commons, led Obama to punt to Congress.
If only that were the end of the story. In the Rose Garden statement in which the president informed the public about the resolution, he also indicated he could decide to proceed with bombing no matter which way Congress votes. Hey, if the president does it, it’s not illegal, right?
In the final estimation, though, the stakes are high. A regime has used chemical weapons on its own people. The Syrian civil war is the worst conflict the planet has seen since the peak of the Congo war in the 1990s. We would be stupid to get fully involved in the conflict, but no one, anywhere, is really suggesting we do. There is a very real fear that if the world punts on doing anything of substance to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons, there will no longer be any reason for any country to fear developing these weapons. We may not want to be the world’s police, but this is exactly the type of situation that cries out for American action.