President Obama is seeking Congressional approval for military action against the Syrian regime. This is smart politics, and a typical Obama move: put the ball in the court of Congress and loudmouth skeptics who like to complain because Obama is, well, Obama. It is politically useful to make sure the anti-Obama crusaders have a little skin in the game.
The anti-Obama contingent may well vote no on any action in Syria — but like Democrats who voted “yes” to invade Iraq in 2002, it may well be a vote they wear rather than flaunt in 2014, and beyond.
The Syrian situation itself is something of a shame, because we have no choice but to view it through the paradigm created by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush and Iraq. The Iraq War was based on lies, half-truths and political sleights-of-hand designed to mislead the American people. Saddam Hussein had WMDs. Iraq was connected to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Saddam was connected to al Qaeda. Saddam was an immediate threat to America.
All lies, half-lies, all tragic nonsense.
And yet deep questions about intervention in Syria persist. To what end would we intervene? And would we work with the international community, or go it alone? Though the Arab Spring continues to bloom, can we know if Syria will be the next Turkey? Morocco? Or Egypt?
What’s the goal in Syria? Take out lunatic strongman Bashar al Assad? And if not, won’t Syria just be the first Iraq War — the Gulf War — with leaders wondering why the half-measure, waiting a decade for executive power to strike again and “finish the job”?
What’s the strategic goal in the Middle East?
What is going to be the human cost in America lives? We were told to expect it to be “minimal” in both Iraq and Afghanistan given the majestic advances of modern warfare. Today, we are awash in soldiers suffering long-term effects of PTSD, and only now understanding the effects of long-term deployment on children and families. Soldiers who lose their lives in combat can never be replaced, their families never repaired — but that doesn’t mean others aren’t broken, possibly beyond repair.
Are we ready for more broken families in the name of putting al Assad’s head on a pike?
And what about the actual financial investment? Surely everyone at this point knows that George W. Bush was the first president in the history of the republic to both cut taxes while starting a war, as well as ballooning the intelligence and “homeland security” arm of government. It is not secret to even the armchair economists that the excessive spending on neverending war and foolhardy tax cuts contributed largely to the global economic meltdown.
Will Obama propose “Syrian War” tax increases? If so what political cost will be paid for that here at home?
And if we target al Assad, then why not Robert Mugabe, a villain straight out of a James Bond movie? I hear Joseph Kony is somewhere around central Africa, likely still recruiting children to serve as mercenary soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. I guess we don’t have to worry about Omar al-Bashir in Sudan. George Clooney has a satellite aimed at his border.
We elected Obama in 2008 to extricate us from these persistent wars we no longer understood. Given the political obstacles he faced, he did the best he could with the tools he was given.
So, for Obama, Syria seems a little unfair. I’m fairly sure al Assad did use chemical weapons on his own people. But even if he didn’t, so what? His totalitarian fist is crushing nascent voices of, we somewhat presume, freedom in his own backyard. It is a testament to our global political ineptitude that the Arab Spring hasn’t been better addressed by world leaders.
Perhaps George W. Bush did us a favor with his careless, expensive, unilateral Iraq War, though he surely couldn’t have meant to do it: we’re forced to ask these deeply skeptical questions now at the brink of another war.
They are worth asking now, because the last, and maybe worst, legacy President Bush left us with is the length and persistence of these wars. Years, maybe decades these engagements in the Middle East will evidently continue. These questions are worth asking because if this conflict persists as these previous wars have, in the next fifteen to twenty years the next group of young people to march towards Aleppo won’t be us. It will be our children.
Benjamin J. Kirby published the Spencerian, a political blog covering national and local politics, for eight years. He spent twenty years serving in national and local government as well as the non-profit sector. A contributor to Context Florida, he is currently the principal of Typeset Media Strategies, providing writing services, social media content, and communications strategy for non-profits, political leaders, and drivers of community conversations.