Does anyone else remember this exchange between the evil Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) and his Chief Thug, Richter (Michael Ironsides) in the 1990 Total Recall?
That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about “public response” to US military strikes in Syria.
Seriously, how many people in the whole world have enough information to make this kind of decision? How many people have enough information to THINK?
How many of those people can be trusted?
That’s really what this whole thing comes down to.
Republicans don’t trust Obama because he’s black, he’s a Democrat, and he’s smarter than most of them, in no particular order.
Democrats don’t trust Obama because he’s refused to overturn the Constitution to put the obstructive Teapublicans in their place and advance the Progressive Agenda as fast as Democrats would like.
Nobody trusts the US government in war because of Vietnam, then Afghanistan/Iraq: we’ve learned that the government lies to get us into war, lies to keep us at war, and then loses the war.
Nobody trusts our foreign “intelligence gathering” services because that’s where Bush and Cheney pointed their fingers after their Weapons of Mass Destruction ruse imploded.
And, of course, nobody trusts them damn furriners.
I don’t trust any of these people, either.
I don’t know why Obama really wants to bomb Syria. I will never know. I’m certain that the critical information is all “classified,” and I’m reasonably sure that the real reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with the public marketing campaign. If I trusted these people, that wouldn’t bother me a whole lot.
But I no longer trust that the real reasons are good reasons, or — for that matter — even sane reasons. It would not surprise me at all to find that the real reason for bombing Syria is that one of the US military defense contractors has developed a new missile technology that they are itching to test in a live theater of action. Oooh, oooh, let’s go bomb Syria!
Okay, that would surprise me a little. I’m not quite that cynical. Not yet.
The argument being fed to Congress and the US public, however, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Let’s take this “gassing is awful” argument head-on. Sarin gas is worse than napalm? It’s worse than carpet-bombing? It’s worse than Agent Orange, which has led to multiple generations of severe birth defects in Vietnam? It’s worse than using spent uranium slugs which lie around for a thousand years and slowly poison generation after generation? It’s worse than any of the weapons that the US military, or any other modern military, routinely uses?
As I understand it, the reason militaries stopped using poison gas after WWI was that it was a fickle weapon that tended to inflict casualties on the troops that released it. It was abandoned because it wasn’t a practical weapon, not because it was “morally repugnant.” War itself is morally repugnant. Get over it.
Second, everyone outside the US understands that Washington is fickle, on a predictable four- or eight-year cycle. Obama has three years left, and then he’s gone; during his last year he will be virtually powerless. So even if Obama delivers a “big bad lesson” to Assad tomorrow, there’s no reason to believe that lesson will mean anything at all in two years’ time. We could get another Bush/Cheney pair in the White House in 2016 that will decide it’s a good idea to subdue Tehran with sarin gas delivered by drone. Morally repugnant, yes. Improbable? Not so much. I still can’t quite believe how far down the curve of imperial corruption and collapse Bush and Cheney took us in eight short years.
If we want to have the US play a stern father-figure policing the world, we need to understand that these fathers come through a revolving door. One presidential term will give the world a bastard who beats his children with a chain, the next will be a kindly fellow who tries to set up a college fund for the kids, the next will be a compulsive gambler who blows the college fund in a year, steals lunch money from the kids, and puts the family deep in debt. To paraphrase what we say in Colorado about the weather, “If you don’t like US policy, wait four years.”
Even if the world needs a stern father-figure (highly debatable), this is not a job that US democracy — by design — is competent to perform. Thinking that it is competent in that role is both arrogant and stupid.
Third, if use of sarin gas is really so morally repugnant to presumed universal human standards of dignity, then Assad will face natural consequences from everyone for having used it, including his own loyalists. His worst punishment is already taking place as his top advisors look at him from the corners of their eyes and say, “My God, this man is insane!” He doesn’t have to wait until Daddy comes home and gives him a whipping: his power-base should fall apart on its own because his own people see him as a madman.
The very idea that Daddy needs to come home and give him a whipping is a clear indication that the whole premise is false: that gas attacks are, in fact, no more reprehensible than the bombings, burnings, murders, and rapes that take place in any war zone. Or, for that matter, the torture that the US routinely practiced in Abu Ghraib.
So what the President is saying here is that two badly-raised brothers in the house next door are going at it with bare fists, and one of them kicks the other in the balls. The President hears about this, and says, “That’s not right — that’s fighting dirty. It’s against the rules. I’m going to go over and teach him a lesson.”
Ummm. You know, there’s a saying in Arabic that translates something like this: “My cousin with me against the stranger. My brother with me against my cousin. Me against my brother.”
Only a complete idiot tries to get mixed up in a bare-knuckle fistfight between brothers. The only thing more idiotic is getting between a mother bear and her cubs.
So what do I think of the public argument for bombing Syria that the President is promoting?
It’s rancid bullshit. But it isn’t the real argument, anyway. The real argument is classified. “Advancing peace and democracy in Iraq” is what Bush and Cheney settled on as their cover-story, after five previous (failed) attempts to spin their war, and it seemed to get the best traction. Obama should take a lesson from their playbook.
What do I think about the President’s decision to bomb Syria?
That’s a different question. They don’t give me enough information to THINK.
What I think is that Obama is going to do whatever he decides to do, entirely without regard to what I think. Or what Congress thinks.
He’s probably right to ignore us, because none of us has enough information to THINK.
I can only hope that the real reason is at least sane.