One pundit likened President Obama’s speech and, by extension, his leadership roughly to that of Hamlet. Out of options, good or bad, the president tried to make the best of an impossible situation. For my money, he didn’t get very far.
Trying for weighty, persuasive language, most of it sounded hollow, self-righteous and illogical. The litany of dire “if this, then that” forecasts didn’t work for me nor for a majority of Americans of every political stripe, according to polls. Somehow, if we “allow” Assad to keep and use WMDs, that will encourage all the other wannabees to get them too? Wannabees could include Paraguay, Lichtenstein, Belize, Nepal and a host of other insignificant places. Places that have yearned for weapons of mass destruction but feared U.S. intervention?
What he suggested is that all the other pipsqueak leaders around the world will naturally set a course for suicide and the destruction of their countries (by us or a lethal coalition of our choosing) as the acceptable price for having WMDs. Somehow, if we don’t take strong action, even “unbelievably small” action, Iran will be greatly emboldened to keep working on a nuclear arsenal. That begs the question, “Has Iran just been waiting for us to threaten Syria in order for it to develop more nuclear weapons?” That makes no sense. North Korea has been doing what it does for years without Syria being a tipping point for its bad behavior.
If we don’t bomb Syria, Syria will think it’s OK to launch WMDs against Israel. If Assad wants to stay in power as desperately as he seems to, why would he throw it all away by inviting Israel and the U.S. to obliterate him? Even evil dictators have a better sense of self-preservation than that.
It may sound cold, but if we piled up 100,000 corpses, sans arms, legs, heads, the results of conventional warfare, on one side of the street and 1,400 corpses who died from weaponized poison on the other side, would or should that really be a “game changer?” Is the image of a father holding his 3-year-old, gassed to death by Sarin, somehow grislier than the image of a father holding up parts of his 3-year-old, killed by a rocket-propelled grenade or torn apart by an AK-47? The issue clearly is not measured by the pound.
If Assad’s WMDs fall into the wrong hands, they will immediately be used by terrorists to: A) attack our friends in Jordan, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia; B) attack American assets around the world; C) attack the Russians from the former Islamic Soviet states; D) all of the above and even more.
Well, that could happen. It could happen tomorrow or it could have happened 20 years ago whether we attacked Syria or not. Terrorists will get stuff to kill with from somebody. Even from us, as Saddam Hussein did during his war with Iran. And if those friends of ours are really worried about such a scenario, why the hell aren’t they joining us to do something about it? Something real. Evidently, Russians don’t see much threat from Chechens having WMDs. (They ought to, and I suspect they know it and they’re trying to figure out how to prevent it without losing face over Syria or losing influence in the neighborhood.)
For all the above reasons, it’s in our national interest to spank Bashar al-Assad for doing what he (allegedly) did. A good spanking is all the president and the administration have urged. I got a good spanking from my father after he caught me smoking when I was 10 or 12. It didn’t have much effect. And while I don’t recall, he might have added, “Cigarettes today, whiskey, heroin and a life of depravity tomorrow.”
The president said he does not want America to be the world’s policeman, but … (since we really are and must be because no one else is, we have to strike Syria, sooner rather than later, because like it or not, America is the world’s policeman). Well, except when we don’t want to be — think Rwanda, Cambodia, Mali, Myanmar.
Lots of smartheads remind us that Syria is not Iraq. Lots of smartheads reminded us that neither Afghanistan, nor more especially Iraq, was not Vietnam. And of course they are and were completely right and accurate. Syria is not Iraq, and Japan is not Costa Rica, but everyone knows that. Ten years here, 12 years there. A billion or two this week and next and the week after that. Except, of course, “Let me be clear.” This is different. Of course it’s different. But the prospects are just as lousy and events just as uncontrollable and the goals just as unattainable and the objectives just as fuzzy.
Who would have guessed this issue would create such unlikely bedfellows? Big Democrats opposing the president. Big Republicans supporting him. This is about as bipartisan as anything we’ve seen coming out of Washington in a long, long time. Maybe there’s hope for us yet.
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.