Drums Along The Potomac: How This Country Never Learns Anything
February 23, 2015
Charles Pierce / Esquire Magazine
Commentary: This has been one of the more depressing weeks we have seen in a very long time. The country seems to be sliding down some very familiar tracks into a military engagement in the Middle East -- an engagement that, at the moment, seems to be cloudy in its objectives, vague in its outlines, and obscure on the simple fact of what we are supposedly fighting for, and who we will be fighting with.
(February 20, 2015) -- Quite frankly, this has been one of the more depressing weeks we have seen in a very long time. The country seems to be sliding down some very familiar tracks into a military engagement in the Middle East -- an engagement that, at the moment, seems to be cloudy in its objectives, vague in its outlines, and obscure on the simple fact of what we are supposedly fighting for, and who we will be fighting with.
Can we fight the Islamic State generally without help from (gasp!) Iran? Can we fight the Islamic State in Syria without a de facto alliance with Hafez al-Assad, who was Hitler only a year or so ago?
And the most recent polling seems to indicate that all the institutions that are supposed to act as a brake on war powers within a self-governing republic are working in reverse again.
The Congress is going to debate how much leeway it should give the president to make war, not whether he should be allowed to do it at all.
The elite media, having scared Americans to death by giving the barbarians and their slaughter porn the international platform the barbarians so desired, is jumping on board with both feet. (To cite only one example, Chris Matthews is suiting up again.)
The country has been prepared to give its children up again. At the very least, public opinion on what we should do is a muddle, which means that any plan that looks "bold" likely will carry the country with it, unintended consequences be damned. With the intelligence all pointing toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans.
Amid more executions by the militant group ISIS, Americans increasingly see the group as a threat to the US. Now, 65 percent of Americans view ISIS as a major threat -- up from 58 percent in October -- while another 18 percent view it as a minor threat. Majorities of Republicans (86 percent), Democrats (61 percent) and independents (57 percent) view ISIS as a major threat.
Support for sending US ground troops to fight ISIS has risen among all partisans, but particularly among Democrats and independents. Back in October, 56 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents disapproved of using ground troops -- now 50 percent of Democrats approve and 53 percent of independents favor using ground troops.
You can see the logical canyon, can you not? The Islamic State is no more an actual threat to the United States than it was in October. But there have been more garish executions and more events elsewhere, so the perceived threat -- real or not -- has begun to work its dark magic on the national imagination, the way that aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds once did.
The more bellicose of our leaders are openly shilling for a general engagement on the ground; the inevitable John McCain inevitably has called for a "mere" 10,000 ground troops, and he wants those troops to help fight against both the Islamic State and Assad. Because. . . . do something!
You develop a strategy and elements of the strategy are American boots on the ground and not the 82nd Airborne, the president keeps setting up these straw man saying we want to send in masses of American troops, we don't, but we need to have American . . . air controllers, special forces, many others. I'm talking about about ten thousand in Iraq.
Then we need to say our objective is to eliminate Bashar Assad as well as ISIS in Syria and we recruit a other Arab nations with Americans but not too many to fight against ISIS and Bashar Assad in Syria and coordinate those movements with air power guided by air controllers.
So the mission already is creeping; hell, Congressman Ed Royce, who only chairs the House Foreign Relations Committee, wants the proposed authorization for the use of military force to include Iran. And god only knows what happens if the Islamic State grabs a couple of those 10,000 American ground troops and uses them for another snuff film.
The mission already is creeping. I wonder if anyone else notices how similar Royce's request is in spirit to that contained in the famous notes taken by Donald Rumsfeld in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks:
"And at 2:40 p.m., the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H." -- meaning Saddam Hussein -- "at same time. Not only UBL" -- the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden. Now, nearly one year later, there is still very little evidence Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. But if these notes are accurate, that didn't matter to Rumsfeld. "Go massive," the notes quote him as saying. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not."
The mission already is creeping.
The more bellicose -- and the more desperate -- of our presidential aspirants also are openly shilling for a general engagement; Marco Rubio says that, if we'd only listened to Marco Rubio, we wouldn't be in this mess today, and how we simply cannot have a rookie like Jeb (!) Bush learning foreign policy on the job.
The Florida Republican senator, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, is beginning an aggressive effort to sell voters on his judgment and foresight on matters like Syria, Iran, Libya, Russia and Ukraine, making the case there should be no doubt he has the wherewithal to lead the country at a time of war.
It's a necessary push for a first-term senator and potential presidential hopeful who is trying to convince GOP voters that he isn't a policy lightweight lacking executive experience, but rather a deep thinker who is fully engaged in complex foreign affairs and can manage the country's sprawling national security apparatus . . . .As you look around the world," Rubio said at the time, "you start to see the need for American leadership."
Leadership! Deep Thinking
The mission already is creeping. I wonder if anyone else notices how similar Rubio's vainglory is in spirit to all those members of Congress, young and old and of both parties, who voted as though they believed all those neocon fairy tales about how the wildfire of democracy would spread throughout the region if only the United States would "lead" by overthrowing Saddam Hussein, thereby sweeping it all up.
And I wonder if anyone else notices how similar it is in spirit to the position taken by presidentially ambitious Democratic politicians, like the last two Secretaries of State, one of whom was the party's nominee in 2004 and the other of whom is the odds-on favorite to be the party's nominee next year, who didn't want to be left behind by the glory train when it rolled through Baghdad. The mission already is creeping.
There is only one difference that I can see, and that is the guy in the White House. The president wants his AUMF to face the regional threat, it is true. But he wants a limitred one, and he has been consistently against a general engagement.
He has been resolute against the rising and distasteful call for an authentic "clash of civilizations" motive for American action. (So, to be fair, was the last guy. It perhaps was the only thing he did right.) The pressure for him to do so is growing overwhelming; Rudy Giuliani is only the most garish member of the rising chorus. He has stood firm on the nonsensical "controversy" about what he should call the activities of the Islamic State.
But it may not be enough. The next presidential election is gearing up, and what is going on in the Middle East has changed the dynamic of that race utterly. People may be running for president with American troops in harm's way, whether the engagement there is general or not.
The opinion of the country has been manufactured again to demand a war with no clear goals and no clear endpoint. Voices of reason and moderation -- Hi, Marie Harf! -- are being shouted down by conservatives and only tepidly supported by liberals. Nearly 100 years ago, rising in the Senate to oppose the entry of the United States into World War I, Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin called the bluff of every hawk who ever called for a blind punch at a designated enemy.
We should not seek to hide our blunder behind the smoke of battle to inflame the mind of our people by half-truths into the frenzy of war in order that they may never appreciate the real cause of it until it is too late. I do not believe that our national honor is served by such a course. The right way is the honorable way.
The ground already is prepared, the soil tilled. The mission already is creeping.
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