That Was Then, This Is Now

There’s no telling how the imminent American military action against Syria might affect the future, but even before the first cruise missile has been launched it has already altered the past.
Students of recent history will recall how the bloodthirsty cowboy crusader George W. Bush blundered into a catastrophe in Iraq by touting dubious intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction in defiance of the sage skepticism of United Nations inspectors and all of the deep thinkers on the left, then waging high-tech war against a dictatorship that posed no immediate threat to America’s national security without the approval of Congress or the UN’s Security Council or any countries of the Islamic world. Anyone familiar with conventional wisdom is also aware that the peace-loving and culturally-sensitive community organizer Barack Obama then won the presidency on promises to pursue a more placid foreign policy, won a Nobel Peace Prize for the accomplishment, and that all has been well in the world ever since.
This inspiring and seductively simple narrative now requires some revision.
Some of it was ahistorical all along, with one example being that Bush did win congressional approval for the war, and with a broad bi-partisan majority that included both of the people Obama would choose as his Secretaries of State at that, and a number of Arab countries were openly pleased to be rid of a troublesome neighbor and some even provided help, but pretty much all of the cherished history is called into question by the lead-up to the Syrian war.
There is compelling evidence of Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its citizens, which is the stated reason for America’s intervention and arguably a worthy justification, but Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had also used them and there was also compelling reason to believe he had more, possibly even very the same ones that his Syrian Baathist allies are now using, but now we are told that UN weapons inspectors and other skeptics are not the all-knowing experts they once were. Approval from Congress and the UN and the Arab League and the likes of such liberals as Dennis Kucinich are apparently no longer needed to justify a war, as the Obama administration has not made so much as a token effort to acquire any of them as it prepares for war, and it turns out that sometimes even the most placid foreign policies apparently require military action.
Those with a stubborn fondness for the old history will insist that things are different this time around, and of course they have a point. They will correctly note that Obama will likely limit this action to a few a perfunctory missile-lobs and certainly will never commit ground troops vulnerable to the inevitable casualties, but that means he won’t be able to affect the aftermath and prevent the likely ascendancy of an terror-loving Islamist regime taking over, so the outcome probably won’t be noticeably better. This time the goal is to merely prevent further chemical attacks and not the messy business of regime change and installing a democratic and pro-western government, the administration’s spokesman assures us, but if the current Syrian regime is left in place it will be both strengthened and emboldened by surviving an assault by the American military. This time is for purely humanitarian reasons, and nothing so gauche as national interests, but such higher-minded reasons don’t necessarily ensure more favorable results.
The complexity of the problem and the reasonableness of the various points of views are well worth noting, which is change from the recent history. Back in the days of Bush it was so much simpler, as Obama and other liberals could easily assume that anything the president was wrong, but now we are expected to believe that anything the president does is right. Some people will go along it with, if recent history is a reliable guide, but the latest polling suggests there is already much skepticism about the wisdom of getting involved in Syria’s civil war. The public can also be wrong, and often is, but it usually waits until a few casualties make the headlines before turning against a war, so its early opposition to this effort bodes ill for the future. It might also suggest a change in the view of the past, but that remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

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