Our Secretary of State is one class act, ain’t he? During his conference call yesterday, he said that the United States faces a “Munich moment.” That’s a reference to the Munich Agreement between Neville Chamberlain and Hitler. I don’t even know what Kerry means by this. The situations are not at all the same. But when hawks start talking about the Munich Agreement, what they mean to convey is the idea that diplomacy doesn’t work. “We couldn’t trust Hitler therefore we can’t trust anyone!” Kerry’s rhetoric has been repugnant throughout this entire thing.
According to Politico, “In a 70-minute conference call on Monday afternoon, Kerry derided Syrian President Bashar Assad as a ‘two-bit dictator’ who will ‘continue to act with impunity’…” These are not the words of a country that is trying to fix anything. These are the words of a country that is hell bent on war. I remember the exact same rhetoric coming from the Bush administration in 2002. At that time, people wondered if we were really going to war. I was shocked because it was clear we were going to war. You don’t publicly shame foreign leaders if you want them to change their behavior.
Another of Kerry’s “arguments” was that Israel backed the need for an American attack. That’s rich! First, Israel is pretty much always in favor of bombing any place. Second, they don’t like the Assad government! By this reasoning, we ought to attack Iran. In addition to Israel, Kerry said other governments would support us—governments like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Maybe France and Turkey too. This is sounding a hell of a lot like Bush Jr’s Coalition of the Willing: except this time we don’t even have England with us.
I’m still trying to figure out if Kerry is a loose cannon or he’s just playing his part for the administration. His rhetoric is clearly out of balance. I could see being so upset if we were talking about saving people who are directly in harm’s way. But that isn’t it at all. As Representative Janice Hahn said, “This is really only about sending this message to Assad.” Assuming that Assad really did okay a chemical weapons attack (explicitly or implicitly), I think he’s gotten the message. I doubt he’s thinking, “Well, they didn’t do anything last time; I guess I can go hog wild!” On our side, this whole thing seems to be about saving face, with almost no consideration of its danger to get us more involved in a conflict that could eventually lead to war with Iran and even Russia.
Something else that bugs me about this is how much it depends upon classified documents. We aren’t able to see the documents; we just have to accept the administration that it’s credible. But those who have seen the documents are not so sanguine. Representative Rick Nolan said, “After a three-hour classified briefing and taking time to read all the classified documents, what I have heard and read has only served to convince me more than ever of the folly and danger of getting America involved in the Syrian civil war.”
The one thing that I know just as certainly as I knew it in 2002 is that this administration is determined to go to war. There is no amount of counter evidence that will convince it to change course. And look: I understand. This probably will be a limited engagement. We probably will just drop bombs for a week. But even if that’s the case, it does almost no good and lots of harm. Plus, there are all kinds of unintended consequences. For example, if I were a leader in Iran, I would think it a good idea to start back up the nuclear weapons program. Regardless, the bombing is likely to make an end to the Syrian civil war less likely.
So big badass America is going to “send a message” to weak little Syria? We don’t seem to give a damn about the Syrian people. They can just continue to die—now with our help! But this is a chance for Kerry and Obama to puff out their chests and pretend that both their dicks are hard. Liberalism in America!
Update (3 September 2013 10:32 am)
Jonathan Chait, who is generally for attacking Syria, pretty much agrees with me about the deterrence of doing nothing:
For the purpose of deterring chemical-weapon attacks, the intent to strike matters nearly as much as the strike itself.