The PJ Tatler

Why We Still Must Not Support Obama's Strike on Syria: Responding to Ron Radosh

Indeed, this is how a serious debate should be conducted. Invective-free.

I’ll take Ron’s latest arguments in order.

1. John Kerry has not changed. He remains the leftist “international test” advocate that he has always been. He publicly identified with Code Pink’s ideals when they disrupted his unconvincing, self-contradictory testimony in the Senate this week. His advocacy for striking Syria may be based on Islamist disinformation, about which I’ll have more to say shortly. Suffice it to say that he is carrying out the policy of his boss, whatever that policy is, in the job he has openly and lustfully sought for years and would never resign on any principle, and knows which buttons to push (“indispensable nation”) to make hawks pay attention to him. Lingo does not hide the fact that he is still the same man who smeared American troops then fighting in Vietnam and then built his career on that, and the same man who opposed the 1991 intervention in Iraq. The case for action then was much stronger than the case for action now. Should he not take a few minutes to explain his evolution in thought before asking us to just trust him? Is he wiser now, or merely older?

2. Failure to act decisively may be worse than not acting at all. The Iranians are watching, as are the North Koreans, etc. There’s a popular saying these days — “go big or go home.” That saying would get realized, in my judgement, if we strike Assad but do not kill him or remove him. After the symbolic, mostly meaningless strikes that Obama promises, Assad will emerge from the smoke as if he has been hardened in combat, stand on some rubble in a MacArthur pose, and announce that he “defeated” us. It will be absurd, but that’s how Middle East despots react when they’re bombed but not killed or face invasion. Obama’s “just muscular enough not to be mocked” strike invites mockery. Obama has already told Assad that he is not a target and that the strikes will be so limited as to be militarily meaningless. Iran will be watching that, too. Assad is probably already having soot smeared on his face and rehearsing his post-bombing lines. We know that Obama won’t go big. So in my view he should stay home — not strike.

3. The nature of the rebellion is not what John Kerry says it is. The pro-moderate source Ron cites, Elizabeth O’Bagy, is dubious and may be involved in a disinformation campaign to sell the “moderate” face of an Islamist insurgency. She appeared on Fox again today and played word games about her role with the Syrian Emergency Task Force — she is their political director, and they have Islamist ties. In my mind, this discredits everything she says about the “moderate” forces in Syria. The New York Times reported on the rebels’ brutality today. It also should matter that even when America does put hundreds of thousands of pairs of boots on the ground to kick out evil dictators like Assad (Saddam was pretty much his clone), the people don’t automatically love us and they don’t choose freedom. They tend to choose Islamism. They write sharia into their constitutions. They enforce anti-blasphemy laws. They elect the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Obama administration plays along. It may be that a strong dose of radicalism convinces people in the Middle East to swing back toward civilization, as has apparently happened in Egypt. Should the U.S. military be used in Syria to drive Assad out and start that Islamism-t0-civilization cycle? It’s risky, and Obama isn’t selling that. He’s playing Hamlet and promising to prick Assad so shallowly that he won’t even bleed.

In addition to all that, what is a “moderate” in the context of the Middle East? It’s not the kind of sit-on-the fence Maine Republican we tend to think of in our context. We desperately need to understand Middle East politics on its own terms.

4. Point three also argues with Abe Greenwald, whom Ron cites saying that people in the Middle East will read our inaction in Syria to mean that the U.S. should not be counted on when they look for help fighting off tyrants. We’ve been there, done that, and most of them hate us more for it. We tried living that freedom-fighter role across more than a decade following 9-11. We believed that millions across the Middle East were just yearning to be free. We waged wars to free them at great human and financial cost to ourselves. Unfortunately, it turns out that they’re not who we hoped they were. Afghanistan rumbles on. Libya is a hot mess that already incubates terrorism. For every Jeffersonian there appear to be 1,000 who would rather be right with the Koran than free to do what they like. I saw that firsthand when I went to Baghdad in 2007. Many thanked America for freeing them, then turned right around and wrote Islam and sharia into their laws. Turkey, once a great secular ally of the West, continues its slide toward Islamism. When they move to the West as individuals and families, many of them — enough to matter — try their hand at imposing sharia rather than enjoy their newfound freedoms. The religious revival I mentioned in my first post on this subject is just going to have to run its course.

5. Presidential authority. Ron says that a failure to strike will undermine presidential authority. Given how Barack Obama has repeatedly abused presidential authority, I don’t view restraining him as a bad thing. More restraints, please!

Finally, this administration is fundamentally dishonest about the jihad. I won’t get into Nidal Hasan and “workplace violence” again. The same administration that still cannot (will not) tell us what happened to the Americans in Benghazi asks us to trust what it is saying now about Syria. Obama himself denies ever drawing a “red line,” when he did, and then his lieutenants rolled out a concerted “red line” message. The administration is ignoring evidence that the rebels may also have used chemical weapons, months ago. This fundamental dishonesty must be challenged, not followed into war.

If we’re going to do anything in Syria, and I don’t believe military action is wise, then we should act in a way that takes down both Assad and his Islamist enemies in a stroke. Then perhaps Elizabeth O’Bagy’s moderates can come forward and usher in an era of peace.