President Barack Obama sounded surprisingly decent and moral in his speech last night. If he doesn't own any character, he at least went over to U-Haul and rented one for the occasion. It just was wrongly applied. It brought a nagging doubt back to the fore of my mind regarding the ability of our nation to defeat terrorism for any sustained length of time. I've expressed this angst by asking and answering this rhetorical question before, but again repetion becomes relevant. "Why do they hate us? How can they become dehumanized and resort to acts of terrorism? Easy, it works like Hell."
But that's a bit trite and flippant. I need to expand further on why this sort of thing works like Hell. It works because the people that run American foreign policy are willfully and stubbornly stupid. They grew up believing they would change the world. They might as well have started High School still believing in The Tooth Fairy. The world will not change until we can actually change the human genome. When the Rap-Artist Onyx sang "Two wrongs don't make a right, but they damn sure make it even," he expressed how the typical person looks at street-level reality in our new era of Post-Judeo-Christian Morality. Might, you see doesn't make right. It makes reality. When someone asks "Who's your Daddy?" this is not a genealogical question. Barack Obama's speech explaining his rationale for wanting to bomb Syria shows a complete rejection of this fundamental reality.
Others have criticized President Obama for not knowing what he is doing. I think differently. He knows what he is doing and does it out of benign intent. My complaint, for once, is not his moral gravamen. I just believe he knows one big thing and that thing is regrettably wrong. He knows that he can use his power to give peace a chance. This is wrong as long as force works successfully to remake the world in a manner more favorable to the antagonist. As Samantha Power suggests, President Obama wants to use force to correct Syria's motivations. He wants to spank Bashir Assad for using chemical weapons. Stanley Kurtz points this out below.
America still doesn’t quite grasp the novelty of what Obama is doing in Syria. This is an intervention driven primarily by humanitarian concerns. There is no chance we’d have reached this point without those chemical attacks. The chemical-weapons issue is not a pretext for some broader strategic play, much as many conservatives would like it to be.
As far as I know, President Obama could be motivated by legitimate decency. I've heard from people who see the world a whole lot differently than President Obama who were sickened by seeing little kids get gassed like termites infesting a foundation. He has morally good reasons for wanting a piece of Syria over the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons. What he seemingly lacks is a sense of how Bashir Assad looks at things.
Assad doesn't gas people to watch them dance like MC Hammer. He does it because gassing the enemy pays off. It sends a message the way an NFL Free Safety does when he makes a brutal hit on a Wide Receiver running a crossing route. He is changing the way the Syrian rebels view reality. He is making them acknowledge far more potential risk before they mass against him and attack again. If he effectively makes them cower and move more slowly against the Assad Family Despotism, he is rewarded for his judicious use of the gas bombs. He's not getting his kicks, he's realizing a sweet ROI.
In response to this risk-reward calculation that lead Bashir Assad to break out the chemical weaponry, we threaten a minimal strike. A minimal strike will not alter Bashir Assad's calculus enough to make him put away the bug juice. If we really want to hurt Assad; we have to be willing to go in there and leave Damascus in ruins. Preventing the rebels from sacking Damascus was pretty much why the despot got out the poison bombs in the first place. If our punishment of Assad does not at least equal or exceed the risk he prevents by resorting to brutality, brutality is Bashir Assad's most lucrative strategy.
This is the lesson that we failed to learn from 9/11. Look at what Bin Ladin got out of blowing the crap out of the WTC and The Pentagon. He went from being a dissolute rake to a living legend. He went from a porn-addicted failure of a remittance man to being the Post-Modern Saladin. There are more than one or two other guys out there willing to catch a few rounds from Seal Team Six in order to get that in return.
And look at what 9/11 did for Bin Ladin's cause. The United States was all over Kuwait and Saudi Arabia before Bin Ladin struck. We will soon be gone from most of the Middle East. The United States will pay untold $Billions for security measures that we don't have far into the foreseeable future. Anyone who blows happy smoke up your 4th point of contact and claims terrorism doesn't work is a 2-bong-hit Mahatma Gandhi. Terrorism works like Hell. 9/11 gained those who hate America far more than it cost and it is still paying off.
So what can we learn from all this going forward?
1) Don't draw a Red Line unless you've got a nice "or else" ready if the other guy snorts it up off the floor.
2) People outside the constraints of Judeo-Christian morality will resort to WMDs, terrorism and anything else if force pays off better than Pacifism.
3) Military action of too small an order of magnitude to enter into the risk-reward mathematics of a would-be terrorist will only piss them off instead of deterring them.
President Obama failed all three of these lessons. As long as our nation remains this ignorant of the lessons of 9/11, we can expect more terrorism. It works like Hell.