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Weapons of Mass Destruction…reprise

kerry wmdBack in 2002 or 2003, I’d just started seminary.  I had an uneasy feeling about attacking Iraq, but I kept my mouth shut because I had no place to put the feeling politically.  I figured it must just be leftism leftover from all that time trying to be a poet.
But now I really regret that I didn’t stay with that uneasiness.  Not that it would have changed anything.  But I wish I would have said, “No, Saddam is a bad guy, but it’s better for him to be there than to give weapons and ammunition to al-Qaeda.”  How did the leaders of the country then not realize that taking Saddam out of power was more likely to result in al-Qaeda being funded and armed than leaving him there?
Then of course there was the minor inaccuracy that Saddam turned out not to have any chemical weapons.  Woops.
George W. Bush was idealistic.  He naively thought “American Democracy” could be transplanted to the Middle East, and that would solve the problem of al-Qaeda.
It’s too bad that he thought this way, since he is and was (by all reports) a Christian.  Essentially the strategy was to neutralize religion as a motivating force by introducing consumerism.  That is the Western model, right?  That’s how warring, passionate Christian sects have been tamed here.  So they thought it would work in the middle East too.
Anyway, it wasn’t quite that simple.
But Obama didn’t learn the lesson.  He still thinks that “American Freedom” is going to make life better in the middle east.  At least that’s what he says.
If anything he has ratcheted up Bush’s policies.  In the name of creating democracy in the Middle East he becomes the supporter of the folks we went into Iraq and Afghanistan to get rid of.  That was, remember, not Middle Eastern secularist dictators.  Assad and Hussein never had someone fly a jumbo jet into an American skyscraper.  It was Muslims.  Not all Muslims, but Muslims who believe that Islam obligates them to perpetrate terrorist attacks in the United States.
In the name of getting rid of the sources of such terrorism, Obama supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  He supported the revolution in Libya which killed Qadafi and then turned around and killed the American ambassador.  Now he’s supporting the “freedom fighters in Syria” who are jihadis.  Those who aren’t will be just like the pro-democracy protestors in Egypt who were quickly thrown to the side after Mubarak was gone.
Common denominator between Syria and Egypt?  Massacre of Christians by opponents of the regime.  Of course the Christians in Egypt and Syria supported the dictators!  They knew the dictators were going to give them something more like equal rights under the law than they would get under Islamic law, which makes all unconverted “people of the book” second-class citizens who are subject to discrimination, extra taxes, limitations on who they can marry…etc.
Obama really does seem like he’s more intelligent than George Bush.  That’s why I can’t believe that he doesn’t know that he’s just pursuing George Bush’s Middle East policy more vigorously than George Bush did.
Even down to the weapons of mass destruction excuse again.  Come on, Mr. President!  As easily manipulated as Americans are (see my confession above), it’s going to be difficult to convince Americans using the same excuse again even with the media feeding us Pravda twenty-four hours a day.  Can it possibly be that the White House really believes this same story about weapons of mass destruction after the same story was used to bring us into Iraq?  Even if it’s true, shouldn’t an intelligent person automatically assume that it’s not?
Most politicians become dumb from being advised by experts who keep telling them what all the experts believe and from constantly responding to what the broad majority of their constituents believe.  They are incapable of having an original thought.  If they weren’t that way before they went to Yale they became that way in public life.  John Kerry is a great example.  Rumsfeld and George Bush Sr.  seem like Republican versions.  They’re company men and know how to advance quietly, or they’re public personalities.  But they only are as useful as the experts’ opinions are correct.
Others are just yokels and rednecks.  They may be blue collar, union yokels, like Biden.  They may be southern liberal yokels.  Or they may be true gun-toting right-wing yokels.  W. Bush was one of these.
Then there are politicians and cabinet members who actually seem intelligent.  Cheney seemed that way, but his cunning didn’t extend as far as world diplomacy.  Obama always seemed like an intelligent politician, but he has a different type of intelligence than a guy like Cheney.  Unfortunately, it’s a college boy sort of intelligence that is driven by ideal and ideology and not the way things work.  I think JFK was this way too.  Ego gets in there too and that clouds your judgment.
Maybe I’m wrong about the President, but that would only mean one of two things: he does see what’s going on clearly and he wants to aid and support al-Qaeda.  Or else he thinks that it is morally necessary or in America’s long-term interest to topple Mideast dictators and support popular sovereignty even when that means people vote in Islamic theocracies who are sympathetic toward jihad and terrorism.  The first is hard to believe.  The second, which seems more likely, is despite good intentions a complete misunderstanding of human nature.  It’s better to have a bloody tyrant run countries in the middle east than a cabal of religious zealots whose ultra ultra conservatism and willingness to die terrifies the rest of the populace into submission or silence.
It’s better to have an unprincipled tyrant running the country than a principled, committed, true believer who is wrong.  The Tsarnaevs were committed enough to kill and to die exchanging gunfire with cops when every law enforcement officer for miles around was actively searching for them.  The men in Iraq who made videos of themselves sawing off the heads of American contractors were principled, dedicated, and committed.  They truly believed their god was pleased and honored when they cut off people’s heads.
No, it’s better to have bloody corrupt dictators.  It’s more moral for us to not help principled jihadists overthrow corrupt tyrants.  Why?  Because the more principled and devoted you are to a mistaken cause, the more evil you will do.
That same principle applies to our leaders.  Better a corrupt, lying politician who rules prudently than a well-meaning, idealistic fanatic.
Here’s a liberal writer in the Washington post sheepishly admitting that Obama may have less evidence for his weapons of mass destruction pretext than Bush did.

The case for Syria may be worse than Iraq

By Alex Seitz-Wald, Published: August 30 at 10:07 am

A Code Pink demonstrator in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

A Code Pink demonstrator in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

With Code Pink protesting outside the White House as the administration grows impatient with United Nations inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, it’s beginning to feel a bit like 2003 in Washington.

The Iraq War is casting a long shadow over a potential  Syria conflict, as even President Obama had to acknowledge. “[We’re] not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about,” Obama told PBS NewsHour Wednesday night.

But for all the fears of repeating Bush’s mistakes, Obama is taking the country to war in Syria from an arguably weaker position than Bush did with Iraq 10 years ago.

On public opinion alone, they are worlds apart (and this is a democracy, after all, so such things should matter). “Do you think that the United States should or should not take military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?” a Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll asked two days before the bombing began in 2003. A clear majority, 65 percent, said yes, while just 30 percent said no.

Compare that to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out this morning that found that 50 percent of Americans oppose military intervention in Syria, compared with 42 percent who support it. When asked if the U.S. should prioritize removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, just 16 percent of respondents said yes. Now even Republicans are turning against a potential attack, Nate Cohn noted.

Syria is a historical anomaly here as Americans have generally supported military intervention in recent years, from the humanitarian missions of the 1990s to the Bush wars of the 2000s, to the Libya campaign in 2011.

And while Bush’s “coalition of the willing” was a joke, at least he had the United Kingdom. Obama lost London yesterday when Parliament voted to oppose the war effort. “Gosh, it’s as if they’ve had some unpleasant experience working with the United States on an armed adventure in that part of the world,” Jonathan quipped. It was a major defeat, but the Obama administration is nonetheless preparing to go it alone, the New York Times reported:

Although administration officials cautioned that Mr. Obama had not made a final decision, all indications suggest that a strike could occur soon after United Nations investigators charged with scrutinizing the Aug. 21 attack leave the country. They are scheduled to depart Damascus on Saturday.

“How very Bush-like. Or Bush-lite, I suppose,” Kevin Drum wrote.

Meanwhile, in Congress — and 79 percent of Americans told the NBC pollsters that Obama needs to get congressional approval to attack Syria — there’s mounting opposition to attacking Syria. Yesterday, 53 liberal Democrats sent a letter to President Obama saying that while the regime’s crimes are “horrific,” that alone “should not draw us into an unwise war.” That comes on top of the 140 members of Congress who signed on to a Republican letter cautioning against intervention.

It’s still entirely possible that a resolution to authorize force in Syria would get somewhere in the neighborhood of the 297 votes the Iraq resolution got in late 2002, but there’s hardly the same drumbeat for war coming from members of Congress that we saw back then.

And while the legal foundation for the Iraq war was shaky, at best, the justification for Syria is also pretty dubious. Jon Chait, who notes that he’s “predisposed to favor a punitive air strike against Syria,” explained:

The clearest justifications for military action don’t apply. This is not a case of self-defense, or defense of an ally, or the prevention of genocide. There is an international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but Syria didn’t sign it, perhaps correctly calculating that it would one day need to use such weapons. We would be enforcing an informal norm against the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

The sad irony here, Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ben Smith wrote at BuzzFeed today, is that many of the problems facing Obama’s war effort have their root in the failure in Iraq. “We’re now paying for the mistakes of George Bush and it hampers the United States’ ability to do something,” Howard Dean told BuzzFeed.

Fortunately, there seems to be little appetite in the White House for anything near the scale of Iraq  – “just muscular enough not to get mocked,” as an unnamed administration official said — so the actual consequences will never be as bad.

But while it’s infuriating that someone like Donald Rumsfeld is criticizing the White House for failing to justify a potential attack on Syria — it puts him in ”the Chutzpah Hall of Fame,” as Steve Benen wrote — it’s even more infuriating that Rumsfeld may be right.

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