Wagging the Republican House

Wag the DogSince speculation seems to be the word of the day, I thought I would offer up some more. Is it possible that President Obama is trying to use Syria as a kind of “wag the dog” scenario? You may remember the modestly successful 1997 comedy Wag the Dog. It told the story of a president who is caught making advances to an under aged girl two weeks before the election. So the campaign brings on spin-doctor Conrad Brean, who stages a war to distract the people from the sex scandal.

I’m not suggesting that Obama wants to start a war to avoid a sex scandal or any scandal at all of his own making. Rather, wars have a tendency (in the beginning) to make people love the president. And if a war was going on, he could easily say to the Republicans, “Quit fucking around the raise the debt limit. We’re at war for Christ’s sake!” The fact that we are already at war in Afghanistan doesn’t really matter. That war’s a total clusterfuck, but no one mistakes it for something that Obama has to focus on lest it become even more of one.

The idea is wonderfully America. It would be saying, 120,000 Syrian civilians don’t mean a thing. But the government’s credit rating is at state, and well, them’s fightin’ words! So why not Syria? The use of chemical weapons is an outrage. (That’s why Bush Sr said very mean things when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds!) And if world history teaches anything it is that leaders only need the tiniest of justifications for their invasions. Remember that when Germany invaded Poland, there really were people in Poland who welcomed them. They were liberators, not conquerors!

Any reasonable person would have to wonder how likely this scenario is. Not likely, I’m afraid. But I do think that it is frosting. It is a sweetener for something that the administration (for very poor reasons) thinks it ought to do. After all, it isn’t just that it will likely improve Obama’s approval rating and make the Republicans look like even bigger dicks than normal. It will also highlight the 5% sequester cuts that the military has suffered this year. On a domestic level, it has a lot to recommend it. It also answers Steve Benen’s question this morning, “It remains unclear why action must happen so quickly.”

Much of my reason for speculating about this comes from an excellent article that Matt Yglesias wrote yesterday, The Case for Doing Nothing in Syria. He sets out the case as clearly as one could for why war with Syria is madness. The argument for war is all about false framing:

I was in a meeting recently in Washington with a whole bunch of important people, when I heard a chilling phrase: Obama had “no good options” in Syria. It’s become a cliche. Aaron David Miller in a CNN commentary said there were “no good options” for dealing with the situation. Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast wonders if bombing Syria is America’s “best bad option.” This is how Washington talks itself into a war that has little public support and scant basis in facts or logic. It’s completely unclear how much military strikes will weaken Bashar al-Assad’s regime and also completely unclear to what extent a weaker Syrian regime serves American or humanitarian interests. Military engagement has potentially large downsides and essentially no upsides. But we can brush that all under the table with the thought that there are no good options, which makes it OK to endorse some shoddy ones.

Except, in this case, it’s total nonsense. Obama has an excellent option. It’s called “don’t bomb Syria.” Don’t fire cruise missiles at Syria either. Or in any other way conduct acts of war. Condemn Assad’s violations of international humanitarian law.

But as Steve Benen also reported this morning, “With this in mind, the likelihood of a U.S. military strike appears all but certain. Indeed, it’s not at all clear what could change President Obama’s mind.” And I’m just trying to figure out why.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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