Of course every major policy decision in a democracy is in some way affected by political considerations. Politicians, who are supposed to be reasonably intelligent, are nevertheless swayed by their constituencies, so they can entrust specific policy decisions to their respective publics – but to do that is to invite disaster. We currently have a Congress scattered to their respective home communities and asking their constituencies to decide on how to deal with the difficult and complex question of whether or not to punish Assad’s regime for gassing their own people.
I’m shocked and grieved that the groups I normally identify with, like MoveOn.Org, want to enter the debate, as if they had the understanding to deal with such a complex issue. But they are not alone. All kinds of people now are expressing opinions – now that have in the last two weeks paid some attention to what has been going on in the Middle East. And of course they know what to do; I hear that the vote is against taking action against Assad. How well does the public know why poison gas was outlawed after World War I? Why weren’t these weapons used during WWII, even by either side in its greatest extremity? What prompted the great powers on all sides to refrain from such barbarous instruments of death? There is a reason those weapons were banned – by essentially universal agreement.
The very idea that such an instrument of mass murder could have been contemplated by any regime is a reflection of how much has been forgotten. So the American people, who have as a whole little interest in affairs in the Middle East, in fact, have little awareness of what American interests there might be -- it goes far beyond the welfare of Israel. So of course they see no reason why the United States should take any action on Assad’s brutal resort to mass murder.
The pattern, it seems to me, keeps on being reproduced: Each new event provides another opportunity to display ignorance and arrogance. It is hard to face situations as they are without seeing them through the lens of the past.
A brief history:
• When Saddam Hussein’s army swept into Kuwait 1991 George Herbert Walker Bush took the wise decision to deploy a military force against Iraq. He was supported by his Republican colleagues in Congress but most Democrats opposed him. As it turned out, it was the right thing to do and it was a success; the Democrats looked timid and foolish.
• So when George W. Bush proposed to invade Iraq in 2003 the Democrats, chastened by the blunder in the previous event, provided little opposition. It was a foolhardy program from the beginning and was in fact based on a lie that the Democrats – and the press -- could easily have exposed. But the Democrats were too cowardly to oppose it. Now after many lives lost it is clear how unwise it was, and how costly. The American people seem to have forgotten the lies that made that policy possible; it was a disaster in the end and the general respect the Americans had to that point enjoyed all around the world was lost. Now no one argues for how wise it was. • The Obama administration is at this time faced with the question of how to respond to the outrageous use of poison gas by the Assad regime. And our politicians, and the American people, seem to be deciding against taking even the most minimal action against the Assad regime.
I admit that the issue is not simple, but the one conviction I have is that to allow the American people to make the decision, as seems to be what is in process, is to guarantee another disaster. The right move, whatever it is, should not be submitted to a vote. The reason we have the electoral process – again -- is to entrust to our leaders the task of dealing with difficult decisions as wisely as possible.
Our country is about to blunder in the Middle East -- again.