Friday, August 30, 2013

Who are the neo-con cowboys now?

  • Last Updated: 1:13 AM, August 30, 2013
The secretary of state boiled with moral indignation, American pride and war bluster. The defense secretary huffed that America has “moved assets in place” and is “ready” to punish the strongman. And though the president says he has yet to decide whether to attack, leaked details of the coming military action were all over the newspapers: Within “days,” US Navy ships will launch a barrage of Tomahawks at selected targets.

Have George W. Bush and his band of cowboy neo-cons retaken the White House?

If only. This time the secretary of state is John Kerry, who launched a political career opposing the Vietnam War. The defense secretary? Chuck Hagel, who revived his career by quitting his party after the Iraq war.

They’re part of a team that includes Vice President Joe Biden, who once vowed to impeach any president that goes to war without congressional approval. And, of course, President Obama, who became president in large part because, as a junior senator, he voted against the Iraq war. And who has been insisting that the “tide of war is receding.”

What’s up with all that?

It’s Labor Day. Summering Americans haven’t followed events in Syria closely, and now: surprise! Team Obama is laying the ground work for an imminent attack on Syria to send its bloody-handed President Bashar al-Assad a message. They’re even hinting that they’ll go ahead with their plans without an OK from Congress, let alone the “international community.”
Until recently, Obama rarely talked about Syria. Even now he’s yet to formally address the nation and explain why we’re about to lob cruise missiles at a foreign country. Congressional leaders were briefed only yesterday of some of the intelligence underlining Obama’s plans.
The justification for the attack is the use of chemical weapons last week in Syria. Evidence reportedly comes from Israeli intelligence. Other pieces of intel were laid out yesterday by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Battling his Labor opposition, Cameron agreed to delay joining any military action until the UN Security Council finishes going through the motions of authorizing it, knowing full well that it would end in a Russian veto. He then lost the parliamentary vote anyway. Washington, nevertheless, made clear that we’d enforce international “norms” by ourselves if necessary.
So: Based on Israeli intelligence, America plans to hit a Mideast Baathist regime over weapons of mass destruction, ignoring the UN — and even Congress. Have we missed any of the clichés that were (unfairly) thrown at Bush and the neo-cons before and after the Iraq war?
For two and a half years, Obama’s spokesmen have fiercely argued that despite carnage that left more than 100,000 Syrians dead and created nearly 2 million refugees, America’s involvement there would be disastrous. Except last year, in a moment of weakness, Obama called the use of chemical weapons in Syria a “red line” that would change his “calculation.” And though there were several chemical attacks since then, the horror and scope of last week’s assault, with hundreds dead, including suffocated children, was too much to ignore.
So, poof! All the arguments against any military involvement in Syria were gone.
No, Obama is no neo-con. His plans, reportedly, are to hit a very limited number of targets: no regime change for him. No enforcement of a no-fly zone that could strengthen the anti-regime opposition. Not even a significant blow to Assad’s chemical caches.
Yet Iran officials threaten a regional war if Syria is attacked. Turkey fears an attack on refugee centers near its border. Damascus threatens to attack Jordan, and its UN ambassador accuses Israel of being behind Obama’s new militancy. (Yesterday Israelis formed long lines at gas mask distribution centers in Haifa and Tel Aviv.) Assad may be cautious about hitting Israel, Jordan or Turkey. But some of his underlings, or Iranian agents, or Hezbollah terrorists may yet decide to retaliate on their own. These risks would be worth it had Obama decided to make a difference in Syria, rather than just send a message.
As is, he’s willing to risk breaking some eggs, but he won’t make the omelet.
Welcome to the war, Mr. President. Now how about fighting it?

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