The Obama administration is engaged in the sort of mental gymnastics it usually adopts before making a big decision. The administration is “discovering” the shocking fact that Syria’s ruthless autocrat, Bashar al-Assad, has been using chemical weapons against his own people.
Claude Rains did this routine much better in Casablanca.
Before the rebellion, Assad was a brutal dictator. Once it started, he had no qualms about using artillery and air-strikes against civilians.
The administration wants to treat chemical weapons as a “bright red line” – but really, does it matter to a mother whether the immediate cause of her child’s death was an explosive or poison gas?
The Obama administration talks about “war crimes,” which is not an irrelevant point in the legal and diplomatic aftermath of war.
But whatever might be said of ancient warfare, when brave men faced each other breastplate to breastplate, modern warfare is mostly about random destruction and the death, dismemberment, and displacement of innocents.
All wars are crimes.
The best policy is to fight them only when necessary, and then, fight them as quickly and successfully as possible.
From the beginning of the Syrian uprising, it’s been clear that American troops would eventually be called upon to end it.
Israel could do it, but only at the price of stirring up every lunatic in the world’s biggest outdoor madhouse.
Europe should do it, but Europe can’t decide where to have lunch.
Russia, as usual, is on the wrong side.
So it comes down to us.
Why should we care?
One reason: In modern history, the longer a rebellion goes on, the more certain it is that ruthless, fanatical bastards will rise to the top.
Americans tend to forget this. Our great experiences with revolution both ended up with Virginia gentlemen – George Washington, Robert E. Lee – as the most visible figures on the rebel side. Those were old-school revolutions – largely fought by men in uniform who conducted war by a set of rules. Guerilla warfare and terror were exceptions.
Those days are gone.
It’s true that, today, revolution can often be achieved without firing a shot. When that happens, the new order is sometimes led by civilized men and women.
But once it comes to slaughter, the work of toppling the old regime usually ends up in the hands of warlords, butchers, racial bigots, or religious fanatics.
And we don’t need that. Syria is too strategically placed. And it does have those chemical weapons.
None of that seems central to the President’s thinking. He’s obsessed with public opinion and his own strange set of internal rules.
So America’s official position has gone from cheering from the sidelines to providing slowly increasing amounts of “non-lethal aid” to those rebels it identifies as “good guys” – as opposed to Al-Qaeda-affiliated “bad guys.”
Now, it appears, we’re providing minimal training to some of the “good guys” at undisclosed locations in Jordan.
And the administration has begun talking about chemical weapons and “red lines.”
So off we go again, winding our way down a long, twisting path to war. Pretending that there is some tidy test for deciding when an evil regime has proven itself sufficiently evil to justify sending our soldiers into harm’s way.
There is no such test.
The decision to go to war is not a judicial process. It’s a strategic decision – and an act of national will.
In the case of Syria, the United States would be better off acting to end Assad’s tyranny quickly. And that’s the only consideration that means anything.
As a human being, I care whether Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people.
But as an American, that’s a minor consideration. The world has any number of vicious tyrants. It’s not our job to depose them all.
Syria matters – to us. But if we go into Syria, we must go in with a strategy.
We should go in fast. Arrest – or, preferably, shoot, the key members of the old regime. Destroy all stocks of chemical weapons. And leave.
I’m no Napoleon, but it seems to me that – when we invade a foreign country with no recent history of the rule of law, individual liberty, or elected self-government – we should just take out the bad guys and go home.
With the message that, if that country ends up with another hostile tyrant, we’ll be back to do the same to him.
That’s what we should have done in Afghanistan.
Assuming we went in at all, that’s what we should have done in Iraq.
Now, if some country invites us to help them build a modern nation, without having to invade, I’m fine with that. That sort of nation-building is worthy of America. We might even learn something.
But building a nation among people who have known only tyranny, oppression, or tribalism – that’s making bricks without straw.
We should have learned that by now.