FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Illegitimate states, dubious wars, and diplomacy by gaffe
Let’s see if I’ve got this right: our headlong rush to war in Syria was so important that not even the U.S. Constitution could be allowed to stand in its way. But at the eleventh hour, President Obama decided he needed some accomplices in case it turns into a fiasco, and the British Parliament vote against was in Syria made unilateral cowboy aggression by Obama politically difficult, so he decided to let Congress weigh in after all. No one in the Administration would promise to respect the outcome of the vote – unless they voted “yes,” of course, in which case it would be the most historically wonderful congressional action since ObamaCare passed in the dead of night on a party-line vote that still required special deals and kickbacks to buy off half of Obama’s party.
Any congressional representative who voted against striking Assad with an “unbelievably small” attack, to quote Secretary of State John Kerry, would be guilty of callous indifference to the suffering of Syria’s children. Assad is one of History’s Greatest Monsters, so we’ve got to do something, but not much, or else he might topple from his throne, and then we’d find out just how “moderate” and “secular” those rambunctious Syrian rebels really are. The little dears are busy persecuting Christians at the moment, so it would be a shame to interrupt their fun by asking them to form a government and take charge of Assad’s nerve gas stockpiles.
Former Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman was tapped to run around Capitol Hill calling Syria skeptics a bunch of cowards who secretly can’t wait for American bombs to hit something-or-other in Syria, but “just don’t want to vote for it,” because their stupid constituents are massively opposed to Obama’s war, and their opposition grows more intense the longer Obama and Kerry talk about it. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wobbled onto the Senate floor to cough up Holocaust analogies. He hasn’t been this worked up about anything since the voices in his head told him Mitt Romney was cheating on his taxes.
Obama was just about ready to whip out his iPhone and ask Siri to start launching missiles when Secretary of State Kerry blew the whole march to war with a “gaffe” that quickly became official U.S. policy. His audience was nodding off during one of his narcotic speeches when a reporter, desperately clinging to the last shreds of consciousness, asked if there was any way Assad could avoid the unbelievably small ass-kicking headed his way. Kerry replied, “Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay. But he isn’t about to.”
Even as embarrassed State Department functionaries were busy walking Kerry’s off-the-cuff comments back – dismissing it as “rhetorical” nonsense intended to remind the world that Bashar Assad is a “brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts” – the Russians elbowed our hapless Secretary of State off the world stage and declared it was a smashing idea to let Assad hand over his sarin shells. Syria’s Foreign Minister “welcomed” the Russian plan. Within a matter of hours – while Obama’s loyal drones were still trudging before cameras to insist on a bombing campaign – the State Department was obliged to walk back its walkback of Kerry’s idiotic statement, which had now become official government policy. It’s quite possible that John Kerry might just have blundered us out of a war.
What damage will this resolution of the Syria crisis inflict on American “credibility,” which is supposedly the reason we had to open fire on Damascus immediately? The Administration looks both foolish and irrelevant. Everyone knows Obama was losing both the congressional and public struggles for war; everyone knows he was flirting with despotism, refusing to rule out unilateral action even if Congress explicitly forbade it. Everyone knows that even the formerly war-hungry French bailed out of Obama’s non-existent international coalition, saying they wanted to give the U.N. inspectors more time to investigate Syria. If the Russians pick up on a gaffe from the buffoonish John Kerry and stroll into the United Nations as the brokers of a reasoned alternative to war… that’s the kind of event historians point at when they describe epochal shifts of power.
Some suspect the Kerry “gaffe” was all a puppet show to bring the resolution Obama wanted all along, because this way he gets to posture as the intimidating warrior-poet President who forced Syria to the bargaining table with his devastating threat to spend a few hours blowing up helicopter pads. No doubt the American media will be willing to sell that storyline – Wolf Blitzer of CNN was shaking like a newborn puppy as he announced the news – but no serious global ally or adversary will buy it. They’ll give Obama a graceful climb down from the brink of war because they like having a weak American president, and they’d just love to have Benghazi Rodham Clinton as his successor, but no one’s actually going to believe Obama’s hollow belligerence ended the threat of Syrian chemical slaughter. Especially since Syrian non-chemical slaughter will proceed apace.
War has always been a messy business – invariably more complicated that its confident planners predict at the outset – but it was so much simpler back when the contestants were interested in achieving victory, rather than questioning the legitimacy of opposing governments. The United Nations era ushered in the concept of small but brutal regimes dominating captive populations, who would rush to embrace democracy as soon as the dictator was given a good firm shove off his throne of bones. Sadly, it doesn’t usually work out that way.
If war between sovereign nations over clear disputes is ugly, getting involved in civil wars and factional contests is infinitely more so. How do outsiders get into the fray, who do they support… and how do they get out? The “regime changes” of World War II were achieved by comprehensively defeating the Axis powers. In fact, they were bombed into ruin, dominated by the victorious Allies, and rebuilt from the rubble. Nobody was drawing up plans for an “unbelievably small” attack to send a carefully calibrated message to Adolph Hitler. Japan didn’t put any “boots on the ground” at Pearl Harbor, but no one had trouble seeing it as an act of all-out war.
Not only are these internal interventions complicated, but they have a nasty habit of spiraling out of control. They look so very easy on the eve of battle. But when you don’t enter battle looking for victory, don’t be surprised if you can’t find it. Blustery talk of “red lines” turns into a mad dash to launch missiles, lest the President look weak. What does that turn into, if other super-powers intervene on the other side, or Syria retaliates for its punitive bombing, or defiantly shoots off some more gas rockets? Maybe John Kerry’s gaffe will help save us from finding out.