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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Regarding the Obama administration and Syria, preliminary thoughts about a rapidly evolving situation:

It’s not necessary to think that President Obama has performed brilliantly throughout this debacle to suspect that next time around it’s going to be much harder for an action-hero president to stampede the country into war. As a corollary, hawkish politicians will find it more difficult to intimidate skeptics by questioning their patriotism.

On the eve of George W. Bush’s catastrophic invasion of Iraq 10 years ago, this column observed that “regime change” wasn’t a conservative policy, but “utopian folly and a prescription for endless war.” It suggested that over the longer term, Bush’s neoconservative advisors “may have misjudged the American people as well. Mostly, Americans wish to be left alone; they have no heart for endless wars of empire.”

Maybe I was right about that.

Ten years ago, fools were pouring Bordeaux wine into gutters and ordering “freedom fries” because the French urged the Bush administration to let U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq do their work. Ten years ago, American agents were kidnapping suspected terrorists and delivering them into Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s dungeons to be tortured. Ten years ago, “diplomacy” was a dirty word, a synonym for cowardice.

Ten years ago, President Bush, having promised to put his case against Saddam Hussein to a vote in the UN Security Council, reneged on that vow, ordered weapons inspectors busily finding no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to clear out, and commenced his “shock and awe” bombing campaign. The “embedded” American news media treated the subsequent invasion like the world’s largest Boy Scout Jamboree.

These days, diplomacy gets more respect. Most Americans hope for the success of a French-sponsored Security Council resolution transferring custody of Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons to international monitors. The numbers in a recent New York Times poll reflect a massive change in public opinion. Six out of ten Americans oppose bombing Syria. Sixty-two percent say the United States should avoid taking the lead role in solving foreign conflicts.

Ten years ago, a strong plurality favored U.S. activism. Asked last week if America should use force to turn dictatorships into democracies, people said no by a remarkable 72 to 15 percent. “A war-weary public that can turn an eye from children being gassed—or express doubt that it happened—is another poisoned fruit of the Bush years,” comments New York Times columnist Tim Egan.

Actually, the great majority, 82 percent in a recent CNN poll, believe that the Assad regime launched nerve gas weapons against its own people. But they’ve also witnessed reports of stupefying barbarities by his enemies, and bitter experience has left people wary of believing that American bombs can make things better. They fear that cruise missiles would only be the catalyst for an interminable, slow-motion grind like the Afghan war, which nearly everybody supported at the start.

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