It’s a trying time for the warmongers. A deluge of national polls reveal a public decidedly against war with Syria. Congress is listening, and the authorization for military action faces opposed majorities in both houses. Obama’s progressive base is mostly against his idea to bomb. So are many liberals and most leftists. Even the president’s wife and Nancy Pelosi’s grandson don’t want war, according to these politicians pushing for one. Conservatives, too, overwhelmingly oppose attacking Assad’s regime. The Tea Party types want nothing to do with the war. The right’s talking heads mostly lashed out against the idea, for mostly very good reasons. Almost every media organ with any outsider credibility at all thinks the idea is crazy and incoherent.
The proposal never passed the smell test. The administration has offered to punish Assad’s murderous government without toppling him. It admitted that his rebel enemies counted among themselves radical Islamists and al Qaeda affiliates, and so conceded that overthrowing the regime could spell trouble. So instead of a war to destroy the state, Obama’s team suggested only hurting it a little—to send a clear message, and help the rebels, including the worst of the bunch, but only a bit. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has compared inaction with capitulating to Hitler, promised that the U.S. strikes would be “unbelievably small.”
Just looking at a map of the Middle East, we see how dangerous the idea of war with Syria is. Military action could have prompted retaliation from Assad, perhaps against Israel, or reprisals from his allies in Iran or Russia. Hitting Assad just a little could easily provoke more aggression, which would then likely elicit another violent response from the U.S. government. Before we know it, a “limited” strike with no ground forces could spiral into a regional bloodbath.
The widespread understanding of how terrible an idea this is inspires all of us who love peace and oppose U.S. imperialism. Americans are tired after more than a decade of war and its broken promises.
And we see the remaining War Party—a near perfect proxy for the foreign policy establishment. The Republican leadership and perennial interventionists John McCain and Lindsay Graham have thrown their lot in with the president’s plan, at times even urging a more aggressive action, echoing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney‘s campaign pitch for escalated U.S. intervention in the country. The Democratic leadership, too, has of course backed its co-partisan commander-in-chief. It has attempted to stamp out loud dissent among its party’s ranks, sending a message to the Congressional Black Caucus to shut up while Obama pushes for war.
The administration and leaders from both parties want war, along with the military-industrial-complex and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, both of which have planned a large-scale lobbying effort to whip up support for bombing. The editors at National Review and other neocons of course want war—they’ve wanted war with Syria for ten years now. But aside from these tired and raspy establishment voices, the War Party has few in its choir.
In the second Bush term, we saw some signs of war weariness and wariness. The neocons had wanted to continue bombing and occupying Middle East countries, knocking them down like dominos, to make the world safe for some perverse version of democracy, Israel, and U.S. empire. Their utopian schemes crumbled and they couldn’t even get all they wanted from the Bush people. Then the Democrats nominated Obama over the more bellicose-sounding Hillary Clinton. Their nominee went on to beat outwardly hawkish John McCain. Now the War Party is more isolated than ever, as about 2/3 of the county is against another war, even after the horrendous chemical weapons atrocity Assad allegedly committed.
Of course, Obama has not been a peace president in practice. He continued Bush’s withdrawal schedule in Iraq, tripled the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, bombed Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, turned western Pakistan into a firing range for American drones, and attacked Libya without congressional authority. He has not yet started a war with the degree of bloodshed and mayhem unleashed by Bush’s Iraq adventure, but his proposal to attack Assad could, if realized, easily escalate into such a catastrophe or worse.
It is thus a very sad thing that even though the warmongers are today on the defensive, their last plan seemingly further from actualization than it was weeks ago, the U.S. empire continues to draw blood, American troops continue to dot the globe in a thousand bases, the U.S. military continues to tower over the planet. It is also sad to ponder that the war with Syria could still happen. Americans did not much care to intervene into World War I until a number of provocations. They were even more leery about World War II until Pearl Harbor. If you ever think we’re in the clear because the majority of Americans do not want war, consider that their opposition to battle might be wide, but it is not so deep. Just remember the Maine, remember the Lusitania, remember Gulf of Tonkin. We are not in the clear yet.
But there is something awfully pathetic about Obama’s pitch for war now. It is almost as though he doesn’t really want it. Some of his detractors and apologists say he is playing a long game to weaken U.S. presidential warmaking power. That seems unlikely to me. Yet he does seem to have trouble articulating what it is he wants to do, and his suggestion that the Russian-Syrian proposal to transfer over Assad’s chemical weapons might suffice would seem to take the thunder out of the president’s calls for an attack.
If Obama is really this incompetent at selling a war, whatever his true intentions are, I suppose this is a silver lining in an otherwise awful administration. I predicted that a Democratic president would produce a perfect storm for war, as his opponents tend to favor militarism and his anti-war supporters would cave and support his foreign crusades. But maybe the Democrats have lost their deadly touch and simply can’t compete with the propaganda machine the Republicans were able to construct ten years ago. Or maybe the era of social media and instant communication has made war plans harder to peddle. Tonight Obama makes his case in a televised national speech. Will he even believe his own sell?
It is too early to say with confidence that this war has been stopped, but for the first time in modern American history, it sure seems like it’s been done. The American people deserve most of the credit, for making it politically difficult for Obama to act. Despite all the continuing problems, there is a real hope that an unspeakable calamity has been averted, thanks to growing public opposition to perpetual war. If we win this crucial battle, it is time to go on the offensive and make the War Party defend every last institution of American empire. We can continue challenging Obama’s unlimited surveillance state and demand an end to the bombings and lawless detentions. Some of these programs face majorities or strong pluralities of opposition—we can demand that they be abolished with the same fervor with which Americans nationwide forced their representatives into resisting Obama’s call for strikes on Syria. We can call for the true peace dividend that never came after the Berlin Wall collapsed. If war can be stopped, perhaps the U.S. military state can be ratcheted back ever more. With the War Party this isolated and desperate, now is the time to pounce.