IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE

The impending US military response to recent events in Syria (Hint: When they spend the massive amounts of money required to move the big military hardware halfway around the world, the decision to use force has already been made) is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with the current one-sided hyperpartisan political climate in Washington. Every commentator, excepting the few hardcore isolationists and the ones who have hard-ons for starting new wars, has reached consensus on two points. One is that Obama has several options in Syria. The other is that all of the options are terrible. They are terrible politically, strategically, and practically for everyone involved.

He can rest assured, though, that whatever he does, the right will howl like cats in heat and trip over themselves to criticize him. It is a mistake to idealize the past, but there was in fact a time in American history where something approaching consensus could be reached between the parties on matters of foreign policy. This usually took the form of Democrats, forever afraid of being perceived as soft, adopting a more aggressive Republican position. We saw this most recently in 2002, with disastrous results. Currently the Republican strategy simply is to sit back, wait for Obama to choose a response, and then go ballistic.
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Anyone want to start a pool on the impeachment chatter?

If Obama makes no military response, Republicans will call him a pussy, accuse him of complicity in the nerve gassing of innocent civilians at the hands of a madman, and declare military intervention the only acceptable response.

If Obama attempts a diplomatic approach, Republicans will once again call him a pussy along with a bunch of overwrought analogies about Hitler and Neville Chamberlain. References to his secret Muslimness will re-emerge.

If Obama does the traditional American post-Cold War response – lob some bombs and cruise missiles from a safe distance – Republicans will explode with rage over the needless slaughter of innocents in Syria. They will note correctly that blowing some stuff up with cruise missiles is pointless in terms of ending the civil war in Syria, but they will neglect to mention the part about shitting their pants if he chose not to use force (see above).

If Obama opts for the Full Monty military response and sends in the ground forces, Republicans will stand before cameras with straight faces and decry the costs of opening a third theater of conflict in the Middle East in yet another country in which the prospects for a positive outcome are poor. Many references to the overstretched and underfunded military heroes will be made.

He literally cannot win, not only because all of his choices are bad but also because the political attacks on him will be relentless under any circumstances. That's the logical end of a Republican strategy that amounts to little more than oppose, oppose, oppose, because the Kenyan usurper cannot be allowed to succeed ever.

And before you throw out the reflexive yet embarrassing "Both Sides Do It" argument perhaps a quick review of voting on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq is in order, not to mention certain other pieces of "War on Terror"-related legislation.

37 thoughts on “IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE”

  • Are we reading the same stuff, or was this written days ago and only just got posted?

    I thought Obama had kicked this over to Comgress. Now people like King are shitting themselves because they're going to have to make a decision that has real world consequences. Even with the AUMF and Pat-riot Act, Obama is actually deferring to the Constitution by kicking it over to Congress.

    Therefore they can't call him out for seizing Imperialist power for himself. So now Congress is Johnny on the Spot.

  • Honestly, the "both sides do it" statement has always stunk of willing ignorance put together with the good feelings that come from casting oneself at the center and everyone else as extremes. Anything that follows this phrase is about as intellectually rigorous as what follows the phrase "I'm not racist or anything…"

  • The beautiful couple of Gramm and McCain already solved the congressional problem. Obama, according to them, should have acted two years ago. He is guilty already.

    Kicking the can down to congress is typical Obama "I am smart" stupidity. There are no viable options in Syria. Ground forces are out. Bombing will cause minimal damage to Assad's already ragtag forces. Why even bother?

    The Republicans shouldn't be a factor. Their reaction is expected and pointless. They terrorize the American democracy and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

  • "If Obama does the traditional American post-Cold War response – lob some bombs and cruise missiles from a safe distance – Republicans will explode with rage over the needless slaughter of innocents in Syria."

    Doubtful. Conservatives have a problem with flat out opposing war or any use of the military. That's why they didn't attack Clinton over those cruise missile attacks against Sudan and Afghanistan, or the Kosovo bombing campaign. Rather than attack the policy or war, they limited criticism to saying that Clinton was trying to distract from his infidelities.

    A more recent parallel was Benghazi. The make-believe scandal was all about intelligence just prior to the attack, rather than criticism for overthrowing a sovereign government and helping Salafist terrorists in the process.

    So sure, the right will criticize Obama if he takes military action, but not because Syrians get killed or because they oppose the use of military force. Instead they'll say he's trying to distract from something, most likely.

    And as for "both sides do it," when it comes to military intervention and imperialism it's certainly true.

  • I was encouraged when Obama reached the rational conclusion that he should not engage in any military action without Congressional authorization. So at least if we do the stupid and pointless—that is, lob some cruise missiles from safe distance in the Mediterranean–the responsibility is shared.

    There are no good options here and if the international community wants to remove Bashar al-Assad from power, then the international community ought to grow a pair and do it. But short of someone putting boots on the ground to go toe to toe with the Syrian military, that isn't going to happen.

    And it is not our job to do it.

    Also, I got home from a short trip and saw McCain on FTN and didn't hear him offer up any suggestions for how to get a good outcome in Syria and short of presenting such a suggestion, he (and everyone else including his separated twin, Sen. Pyle of SC) ought to sit down and STFU.

  • I, for one, am looking forward to the congressional debate. It will make any Obama "dithering" on the subject look like a snap judgment. Boehner is in the worst place now. If he wants to remain Speaker, his only move is to oppose action. But the GOP 'establishment' will turn on him then. If he works to get votes for action in Syria, his days as Speaker are numbered in two digits, given the factors Ed has identified.

  • SiubhanDuinne says:

    "Obama is actually deferring to the Constitution by kicking it over to Congress. Therefore they can't call him out for seizing Imperialist power for himself. So now Congress is Johnny on the Spot."

    On some of the morning programs today, he is being criticized for "hiding behind Congress."

    (In that fine old Southern expression, Obama "can't win for losing.")

  • c u n d gulag says:

    The situation in Syria is something that the UN, not the US, should be handling.
    Unfortunately, Russia will not allow the UN to move against Putin's buddy, and their countries ally, Assad.

    As for the US, if we're not willing to commit fully – and I'm against ANY US involvement – and merely want to "send a message" to Assad, instead of lobbing a few missiles into Syria, why not use social networking sites and avoid any inevitable "collateral damage?"

    President Obama should tell all Americans that he'd like us all to send a message to Assad, by "de/un-friending" him, and Syria.
    Message sent!
    DONE!!!

    Of course, if Obama asked people to do that, Republicans and Conservatives would immediately "friend" Assad and Syria.
    Because that's how they roll nowadays.

    The modern Conservative (bowel) Movement, and the Republican Party, have devolved to the point where they have no new ideas, and everything they think, and everything they do, is reactive.

    Besides their eternal core Manichean beliefs of Christian and white racial superiority, misogyny, xenophobia, and/or homophobia, they wait for Liberals/Progressives/Democrats to take a position, and then they oppose it.

    Even if the Liberals new position was their position, just a short time ago.

    Example: PPACA (aka: Obamacare), which was a Heritage Foundation-designed health care plan created to oppose HillaryCare II, just in case the Clintons decided to try to do something about health care after their earlier failure.

    And it was successfully implemented by a Republican Governor, Mitt Romney, in MA.

    And yet, the moment President Obama and the Democrats turned to it as the start of the solution to our nations worsening health care crisis – foolishly hoping for some Republican support – the Republicans immediately morphed their own plan into seeming like something that the Anti-Christ designed to ruin the USA!!!

    So, they took their very own Heritage Foundation plan and painted it as some sort of Socialist/Fascist/Communist – and every other bad "-ist" anyone can name – plot, and would lead to the utter collapse of American life as we knew it.

    Modern Conservatism is AGAINST any and every thing Liberals are FOR, and FOR any and every thing that Liberals are AGAINST.
    And once the Authoritarian Conservative leaders decide what to oppose, the Authoritarian rubes follow, and bellow.
    Period.
    End of conversation.

  • "On some of the morning programs today, he is being criticized for "hiding behind Congress."

    Fuck them. This is a representational democracy, and every freaking military action is SUPPOSED to be debated by Congress at a high level before it's taken.

    Despite the fact that there really are no good answers to this question, this is the first smart thing I've seen the Obama camp do in months when it comes to foreign policy. Constitutionally, Congress is supposed to have responsibility for telling the Executive what to do so it can be debated in the open air and everyone gets their say. So that's what should happen.

    The fact that Boehner hasn't cancelled vacation and called Congress into a special session to start debating should be enough to tell everyone exactly what the Republican role in this mess is – exactly what Ed is outlining above.

  • The smart move, in this situation, is to make Congress make the decision.

    Unfortunately, when Congress ends up looking and sounding like the drooling morons they are, this administration has no effective way of pointing out to the American public in a clear manner "look at these drooling morons you keep electing, stop voting them into office so we can get some shit done."

  • There is NO action that Obama can take that will not garner strong opposition from Republicans, and frankly who cares if they object? If we give Obama the benefit of the doubt (to which, at this point he is not entitled) then we might surmise that he really doesn't want to attack Syria but is facing very strong forces demanding that he do so. I'm not talking about the Gramps and Lindsay show, I'm talking about Israel, the military contractors, and the oil and gas interests. One could argue he is too weak politically to stand them down or that he has read JFK and the Unspeakable, but given his track record that seems overly optimistic.

    Since before his inauguration, this President has shown his readiness to throw progressives, labor and world peace under the bus. His only desire is to keep making quasi-progressive speeches without being drowned out by peals of derisive laughter.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Am I the only one that thinks "Do nothing" is the preferable option here? We've spent the last forty years dumping blood and treasure in the sands of the Middle East, and it's gotten us nowhere. Yes, Assad is an asshole of the highest order and deserves to get a cruise missile right up the tailpipe. But, the US has no stake in Syria. It's not strategically important, there are no easily exploitable natural resources, and all of our options range from bad to really shitty. So why even bother? If the international community is up in arms, let them deal with it. If the Russians and the Chinese want to war-profiteer by selling weapons to both sides, let them. If it bothers the Saudis and Iranians and Turks so much, let them fire off some mortars and send in peacekeepers.

    Let's just take a vacation from international politics for a while and let the world sort shit out. The policy equivalent of kicking back on a beach somewhere with a drink that has a tiny umbrella in it. Call us if you need us.

  • Sen. McCain was on CNN this morning arguing that anything short of military action would send "the wrong message" to Syria and its ally Iran. Funny how the message always has to be about our willingness to be tough and kick some foreign backside. Why not a message that — oh, I don't know — the U.S. acts in accordance with at least a substantial portion of the international community and not as a loose cannon? Better yet, we could follow Moss Hart's advice: "If you have a message, call Western Union."

  • Personally, I'm happy that for once my congress critters will get to have a say — I'm optimistic that the Beaver State will not go for this B/S — and do what we sent them there to do and speak on our behalf. Which is to say, "Blow it out yer arse!"

    So we lob a few tomahawks at Syria. What would our reaction be if Russia lobbed something at our annoying and highly problematic chums in Isreal in a first instance?
    Not sure Turkey is too happy being in the flight path either.

    Maybe the plan is to shake Boehner out of the seat.

    Shit, for a country that can't seemed to find two nickles to buy some gum balls to fix a bridge. It certainly can come up with the cash to blow up shit in other countries. We've gone from a nation of builders to a demolition crew.

  • Let's face it, OUR military industrial complex (MIC) is pissed, because unlike Saddam, who used American chemical and biological weapons internally and externally, Assad used Russian ones.
    And believe me, our MIC doesn't care who he used it against, or where, since it didn't like their pockets.

    And now, they'll pressure the Congress to let them blow-up some stuff in Syria, by blowing-off some ancient ordinance, which will then need to be replaced with NEW ordinance – Cha-ching! PROFITS!!!!!

    This, of course, presents Republicans with a dilemma:
    How do they choose between their love of blowing-up brown people, and making MIC companies happy in the process, and doing anything possible to piss-off the President they loathe with the heat of a Trillion suns, but who wants to blow-up some brown people, himself – just maybe not enough, to satisfy Conservative tastes?
    Decision, decisions, decisions…

  • I figured when Obama went along with David Petraeus on the "surge" in Afghanistan that our President was just a tool of the Military/Industrial complex. I am not surprised that he is saber-rattling now. I think "hiding behind Congress" is the only smart thing he's done recently.

    The one who surprises me in John Kerry. I am horrified by his Colin-Powellesque statements to the nation. Is there no one with integrity in government?

  • Big Sister,
    "Is there no one with integrity in government?"

    SATSQ:
    No.

    This ends today's edition of SATSQ.
    Tune in tomorrow, for another exciting edition, of SATSQ.

    On a serious note, Elizabeth Warren gives me some hope.

  • @Monkey Business:

    Yeah, I was under the impression that we couldn't afford this type of shit anymore and that it always ends in disaster. Silly me, I guess.

    In other news, I can't wait for the earthstains who called me a traitor in 2003 to chime in on the Syrian conflict.

  • "How do they choose between their love of blowing-up brown people, "

    Hey could we maybe at ease the liberal racism. Arabs are not "brown people."

    My question is why are so many people upset about politics when we're talking about potentially killing people and letting their country be overrun by feuding Islamic fundamentalists.

  • Monkey Business says:

    @acer It has nothing to do with economics. If anything, war is stimulative. Moreover, because of how our government is funded, we can basically create the money out of non-existent air and nobody whose opinion matters will care even a little.

    It's more of a political question. What does the United States gain by lobbing a few cruise missiles at Damascus? A couple of generals and admirals get a half-chub, CNN gets to show footage of stuff blowing up, and we get to pretend like we did something other than blow up a few vacant buildings and scare some stray dogs. In return, the animosity that the Middle East feels toward America will grow, strengthening countries like Iran and the various extremist factions in the region, and keeping the peace becomes that much harder.

    I don't consider myself an isolationist when it comes to foreign policy. I do however think that our foreign policy should be based entirely on what benefits the United States of America. Countries like Iran and North Korea have the potential to pose real threats to the United States and it's interests. Syria? Egypt? Libya? We gain nothing by intervening in internecine conflicts. The idea at least is that we gain some measure of goodwill from the locals, but in that part of the world the locals hate us no matter what. So why bother?

    It's long past time for Europe and Asia to start taking an active role in the shit that's going down in their backyard. England and France can get off their fat asses and lob a few cruise missiles at Damascus just as effectively as we can, and they're a hell of a lot closer. If Russia and China want to profit off endless war in the Middle East, let them.

    You know what the best solution might be? Bomb the entire region back to the 19th Century, because that's the last time most of that region had it's shit together, and let them start fresh.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Arslan,
    YOU know that!

    I know that!

    But to Conservatives, ALL Muslims, are brown people.
    I was just being hyperbolic.

  • @monkey: the main concern is that one of these civil wars spills over into the rest of the region. I believe Turkey has already had issues with "stray" artillery. Not so sure they're keen to have chemical weapons being used on its border.
    Then there's the opportunistic Hezbollah who'd love to fire something at Isreal, as well as harbour Muslim Brotherhood fighters in Lebanon. Which Isreal wouldn't be to happy about let alone the Lebanese Govt…

    But it is like Bosnia where everyone — NATO — wanted the US to wave our magic dick over it and make the problem go away. It was only after the "Serbs"* shelled a market, that we finally said, "I have had enough of this! The beatings shall now begin!"^

    My mum always said never try to separate fighting dogs. You'll only get bitten. Either let them fight or turn a hose on both of them. Again I'm not to sure Putin will take kindly our turning a hose on his friend.

    *the shells had trajectory indicating Bosnian positions.
    ^Bill Cosby

  • England and France can get off their fat asses and lob a few cruise missiles at Damascus just as effectively as we can, and they're a hell of a lot closer.

    I'm pretty sure that even USA Today covered the respective positions of England[sic] and France vis a vis missile strikes.

  • Gerald McGrew says:

    So despite all the pontificating here, it looks like the Republicans are going to go ahead and approve of Obama's "strategic strikes" approach. Cantor, Boehner, Graham, McCain, and others have stated they support the plan. Apparently the only R's who might oppose are of the libertarian-isolationist-Rand Paul variety.

    So yeah….kinda missed the ball on that one guys.

    The problem with this whole thing started with Obama's "red line" comment about chemical weapons use. He warned Assad not to cross the line, and Assad stomped all over it. Now what? Does Obama draw another red line and let this one pass? Nope, can't do that. It would render subsequent line-drawing exercises impotent.

    Let the UN handle it? Hah! As has been noted, Russia and maybe China will stop any UN intervention. Effectively, that sends a message to the world's leaders that international agreements are worthless and unenforceable. Sure, you can sign an agreement to never, ever use chemical or biological weapons, but if you find yourself in a tight spot…go ahead. All you need is an ally on the Security Council and you can gas away!

    So we're left with an obvious option…military response. The only question is, what sort? No way in hell we're invading another ME country again, so the safest, easiest response is to cruise missile some key buildings, air defense setups, and maybe a few of the Syrian army's bases. Now our "red line" means something and maybe, just maybe we turn the tide against Assad (of course, who comes afterwards is the problem there).

    In sum, I think the lesson here is clear. Don't go around drawing red lines if you don't intend to back them up. And once you draw one, you'd damn well better be prepared to respond if it's crossed.

  • Sure, you can sign an agreement to never, ever use chemical or biological weapons, but if you find yourself in a tight spot…go ahead.

    Syria hasn't signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. (The other non-party states are Angola, Myanmar, Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and South Sudan.)

    An argument can be constructed that suggests that applying the doctrine of R2P to Syria would provide a rationale for some military action. That rather rests on the findings of the UN weapons inspectors, whose examinations will be in compliance with CWC.

  • How do they choose between their love of blowing-up brown people, and making MIC companies happy in the process, and doing anything possible to piss-off the President they loathe with the heat of a Trillion suns, but who wants to blow-up some brown people, himself – just maybe not enough, to satisfy Conservative tastes?

    The MIC has a lot more money than the people who actually loathe the President with the heat of a Trillion suns. The MIC spends that money on the people who pretend to loathe the President so those people, in turn, can suck more money out of the ones they've suckered into actually feeling that way.

  • The Israel lobby is supporting the war resolution. Will it be able to prevail over the overwhelming opposition of the U.S. public?

  • I thought it was a rather clever move on Obama's part to go to Congress first. Apparently Obama has realized that if what you really want to do is nothing, bring Congress into the mix and you'll be doing nothing faster than you can say "bicameral".

  • Well. Tristan Tzara stands in awe of that Irbolfxe transmission. Rings of Monaco – punk band or jewelry store? You be the judge.

  • bring Congress into the mix and you'll be doing nothing faster than you can say "bicameral".

    I'm confused, bicameral….is that a camel that goes both ways, or a camel that is half dromedary and half bactrian, and if it's the latter does it have one and a half humps?

  • The Crats have put themselves into this position and honestly after Snowden and the whole NSA thing, i am not sure i ever want Crats leading the US again. Let the Reps ruin the country and then start new.

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