Syria in the Age of Myth
Myth IV. Syria is another Iraq
Obama cannot finish a speech without blaming George Bush and damning Iraq—a campaign about which he admitted in 2004 that "there's not much of a difference between my position on Iraq and George Bush’s position at this stage.”
Before invading Iraq, Bush spent a year winning public opinion (70% at the time of invasion), sought UN approval, won joint congressional authorization, and forged an alliance of 40 countries.
His rationale, wisely or foolishly, was clear: to remove Saddam, to stay on, to foster a constitutional order, to show the Middle East that there might be an alternative between theocracy and dictatorship. The 2004-7 implementation of that policy was as disastrous as operations in 2003, and again in 2008-9, were inspired.
In a post-9/11 landscape, Bush wished to avoid both the pinpricks of Clinton’s cruise-missile strategy (compare the smashed al-Shifa aspirin factory in the Sudan or the futile missiles sent after bin Laden) and the incomplete results from the successful 1991 war that had nonetheless left Saddam in power, left Kurdistan imperiled, left 12 years of no-fly zones, left a corrupt oil-for-food UN debacle, and caused the Clinton administration and the Congress to call for regime change.
Bush may have fixated on WMD, in the manner of the Obama administration now in Syria, but he was also supported by both CIA and congressional agreements about WMD capability inside Iraq (whose ultimate fate we may only know from a post-Assad Syria).
Bush was supported by 23 congressional authorizations to go to war, from genocide, to the harboring of anti-American terrorist killers, to attempts to kill a U.S. president, to attacks on U.S. planes and allies. Harry Reid, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton gave stirring speech to preempt.
You can argue in retrospect that such an ambitious venture was not worth a near $1 trillion and over 4,000 lives and thousands of wounded, but you must concede it was spelled out, authorized, and discussed for over a year. And Iraq did have positive geostrategic effects, at least for a while. Gaddafi surrendered WMD. The Pakistanis put under house arrest the proliferator Dr. Khan. Assad removed Syrian troops from Lebanon. Iran was worried. There was even a stirring of popular Middle East resistance in unlikely places like Tehran by spring 2009.
By January 2009, virtually no Americans were dying in Iraq. A semi-autonomous newly empowered Kurdistan was a model of economic development and relative stability and security in a horrendous part of the world.
We had a forward base to monitor Iran and to protect Iraqi airspace. At the price of some adroit diplomacy with the Iraqis and just a few thousand troops, the U.S. might have pressured the Maliki government to have honored its constitutional promises.
All that we gave up for the 2012 Obama campaign slogan of “I ended the war in Iraq.” If translated honestly, that canard meant, “I inherited no war in Iraq, but have ended a vital U.S. position abroad that ensured the fruits of past humanitarian achievement and advanced our national interests.”
Myth 5. Obama is permanently weakened by Syria and now an impotent president.
Don’t believe that Obama is “ruined” and his administration is “shattered.” Three and a half years is a long stretch for a president, especially given the capabilities of the Obama team and an obsequious media. Every time Obama experiences another self-inflicted mess—from the Obamacare shake-down congressional spectacle to the 2010 midterm rebuke to the serial scandals— he manages to rebound. Already he is claiming his ineptitude was by design and that only his craft brought Putin to the table and averted a crisis; millions still believe such preposterous fantasies.
He is also a genius at diverting attention through another domestic war or foreign crisis (would that our enemies abroad hear the same slurs from Obama that he reserves for his conservative opponents at home: imagine Putin as a "fat cat," or a warning to Assad that we “punish our enemies.”)
Benghazi, the AP, the NSA and the IRS debacles are put on the back burner by Obama’s Syria follies. They in turn will be forgotten once we brace for a new war to follow the ones waged against the evil redneck assault gun owners; the minority bashers who committed Trayvon Martin-like travesties daily; the sinister homophobes who denied marriage equity; the nativists who hated people of color and so insisted on onerous legal technicalities against undocumented workers; the voter suppressionists who demand ID at the polls; the misogynists who denied powerful professional women a little help to ensure their reproductive rights; the polluters who fouled our air and water and fried our planet; the cruel older generation that ignored embattled students struggling with oppressive loans; and union busters who hated collective bargaining.
All those wars will revive and be bolstered by even more in the next 40 months to come. “You did not build that” and “no time for profit” have demagogic children not yet born. We will hear thousands more of the tired emphatics like “make no mistake about it” and “let me be perfectly clear.” There will be hundreds more straw men: “Some do these bad things; others do those bad things, but I alone do the good things.” We have in store lots more of the teleprompted first-person I, me, my, and mine narcissism. “Bush did it” has three more years of ad nauseam utility. “Iraq” will still begin and almost end every sentence until 2017. “Working for the middle class” will follow each dismal jobs report.
Do not underestimate the rhetorical skills and political demagoguery of Barack Obama. He is as incompetent and delusional as Jimmy Carter, but he has far better sophistic skills, far better advisers, and is far more ruthless. Almost half of America does not pay federal income taxes; almost half receive some sort of government assistance. They are as loyal as the captive media to what Obama represents and delivers.
Putin will not let the Syria debacle fade entirely—aided by John Kerry’s sanctimonious efforts to be remembered as Nelson Mandela with Tomahawks, and to freelance while Barack Obama is incommunicado on the golf links.
Yet even this ongoing Syrian tragedy will not yet end Obama’s influence and power, which has been damaged but has not been lost. Brace for more.