Susan Rice and Samantha Power are a lot like Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol in that they are each ideologues who push for military action against tyrants, just from different sides of the political spectrum. Obama has humanitarian hawks pushing him, W had neocons pushing him. I have hopes that Obama is less malleable that W was, and that he will manage to keep us out of a major military involvement in Syria.
As I wrote before, the U.S. has no real national interest in Syria. David Stockman writes passionately in thedailybeast.com that the U.S. needs to get out of the business of military interventions that aren't connected to defending the homeland or connected to real, tangible issues of national security. His main point is that after WWI and after WWII the U.S. cut its military in half because it wasn't needed to be the same size as during such huge wars. But, after the U.S. won the Cold War the military was not slashed appropriately, but rather we have charged out into the world to make things right by either the ideologies of those on the right or those on the left. Key quote:
"The screaming strategic truth is that America no longer has any industrial state enemies capable of delivering military harm to its shores: Russia has become a feeble kleptocracy run by a loud-mouthed thief, and the Communist Party oligarchs in China would face a devastating economic collapse within months were they to attack their American markets for sneakers and Apples. So the real question now before Congress is, how is it possible that the peace-loving citizens of America, facing no industrial-scale military threat from anywhere on the planet, find themselves in a constant state of war?"
9/11 certainly happened, but are the fanatical Islamists really all that concerned about overthrowing the U.S.? Didn't they just want us out of the deserts? Why do we keep meddling in their religious and civil wars?
Secrertary of State John Kerry made a lovely, impassioned speech trying to inspire Congress to do the right thing and avenge the deaths of innocents by chemical gas. But, does anyone think that Assad is going to unleash sarin gas and wipe out half the population of the U.S.? Stockman says that the propaganda war machine is constantly:
"...falsely transforming tin-pot dictators and tyrants like Ho Chi Minh, Daniel Ortega, Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban, Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, and now Bashar al-Assad into dangerous enemies... Only after the fact, when billions in taxpayer resources have been squandered and thousands of American servicemen have been killed and maimed, do we learn that it was all a mistake, that the collateral destruction vastly exceeded the ostensible threat, and that there remains not a trace of long-term-security benefit to the American people."
As to Syria, the U.N., NATO, the Arab League, pretty much everyone is staying out of this one. But, the U.S. left wing humanitarian hawks are so appalled at watching bad people do bad things that they feel compelled to Do Something. But, how do we drop missiles into a civil war without it blowing up in our faces? How do we stick a military toe into the quicksand without eliciting a response that demands our whole foot?
The real question that the left wing humanitarian hawks and the right wing neocons never really understood the answer to was, what happens after the bad guys are dethroned? Quite frankly, Assad is bad for the Syrians, but he's not bad for the national interests of the U.S. The guys fighting him are very bad for the U.S., as I understand it, al Nusra is associated with al Qaeda. I have hopes that modernists and moderates can gain power over time, and I hope the U.S. and the west can help them take over. But that is not going to be helped with missiles form ships offshore now, as best as I can tell.
George Friedman of Stratfor.com observes that Obama has no appetite for nation building in Syria. He has learned the sorrowful lessons of W's failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and from his own failures in Lybia. He suggests an interesting possibility, that the Alawite regime stay in place but get rid of Assad. That sounds interesting to me. It could open the door to reduced slaughter by the regime and open the door to some political negotiations. I wonder if Russia could offer Assad asylum? Or maybe Iran? He seems to have friends. Or the Alawite regime could just let him die of pneumonia or some such.
One thing for sure, whatever Obama and the U.S. does, he and we will be blamed for everything that happens in the Middle East. Friedman sums up ironically:
"It is not easy to be president, nor is it easy to be the world's leading power. It is nice to be able to sit in moral judgment of men like Assad, but sadly not have the power to do anything. Where life gets hard is when sitting in moral judgment forces you to do something because you can. It teaches you to be careful in judging, as the world will both demand that you do something and condemn you for doing it."
I think it is too late, and Obama feels he must do a Limited Attack. I pray that it is a one time shot, or better yet that Congress says no and Obama concedes, just as Cameron did in Britain. Sometimes, a president needs to let the country talk him into using common sense, and Just Say No to the very well intentioned but wrong ideologues in his own administration.