Vietnam made the word “quagmire” popular and since then if you want to say a foreign entanglement has become pointless you call it a quagmire. Syria has already become a quagmire right here in D.C. just on the issue of a military action in Syria.
The President’s view, shared by a traditional section of the foreign affairs community, is that Assad used hideous chemical weapons and that action must be taken to punish such action and disincentivize Assad, or any other bad actor, from thinking such actions are now an acceptable world standard.
Many Democrats who have been decidedly anti-war for a decade, pushing the President to get us out of Iraq, get us out of Afghanistan, see Syria as just another place not to be. Whether it’s a general anti-war sentiment at any time or, as now, in a time of a stagnant economy, they’re denying the implications of the use of chemical weapons and the U.S.’s traditional position as enforcer of world norms in the absence of a functional UN.
Many Republicans are parroting the Democrats anti-war themes, while not specifically mentioning Iraq or Afghanistan. They do like to sneak in other criticisms of the President and a few in Congress used the hearings on Syria as an absurd pretense to bring up Benghazi and other Fox News fever dreams. The word impeachment has come up a few times. Which all makes me wonder what they would be saying if President Mitt Romney asked them to send a message to Assad. Come on, we know they’d be passing the freedom fries, don’t we?
So is it a new low in a period of incredible lows where the GOP obstructs everything this President tries to do no matter what or where? Maybe so.
Do we really think that the people who voted for Iraq and defended the Bush Who Cried Wolf all down the line are now suddenly awake to the blood and treasure wasted and aware of the lives mangled and destroyed by the wars of choice and have awakened their inner Gandhi?
I don’t know how many times over the decades I’ve heard the phrase “we’re not the world’s policeman” but we were and we are. The truth is there are norms of international behavior, yes, even in war. There are Marquis of Queensbury rules to killing and chemical weapons have been verbotten since the horrors of WWI, for good reason. You can argue that death by bullet or death by the suffocation caused by the scorching of your lungs or death by violent convulsions and paralysis of the muscles around the lungs, are all the same. War is horrible, period. But the conventions of acceptable behaviors try to make it less barbaric and the U.S., as the premier military power in the world since WWII has stood up for those conventions, as the world’s policeman ever since then.
And we were proud of that at one time. Standing up against genocide in Kosovo, or aggression in the Persian Gulf, or supporting countless democratically elected governments against coups, or countless humanitarian actions. When we can do good with our power, we have largely done so (or rued our inaction in places like Rwanda).
And yes, of course there have been Presidents who misused our military. The Reagan and Bush years were horrifically irresponsible in their use of our great power to prop up brutal anti-communist strongmen they liked. And throughout our history the military has been utilized to support and defend the economic interests of large corporations. God knows, I know about the abuse of the military and the subsequent bullshit campaigns in the press. I am very well aware that the only other known uses of chemical weapons in the last 30 years were by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds in Halabja with the express knowledge of our own government. Yep, we sold him the chemicals, we have the receipts.
But President Obama is not Reagan or Bush. He’s not surrounded by neo-cons looking to use our military to push their own foreign affairs agenda.
And forget sanctions or other economic hammers being brought to bear against Syria. Russia will block all actions in the UN Security Council. And can anybody point to sanctions that have ever worked besides South Africa? Have sanctions ever forced the hand of a psychopathic strongman? Even if you could get them enacted, have sanctions done anything besides causing the pointless suffering of the average Cuban, the average Iranian?
The quagmire is here, now, in this debate.