Is Obama secretly hoping that Congress will vote against military intervention?by Tom Streithorst / September 2, 2013 / Leave a comment
Obama didn’t want to go to war in Syria and it now looks like he has found a way of avoiding it. The pundits are agog: Assad has crossed a red line and the world’s policeman is not punishing him. The generally astute Financial Times US columnist Edward Luce thinks Obama has made a mistake, that he has ransomed the future of his presidency to two unpredictable actors, the Assad regime and the US Congress.
What we are seeing both in Washington and in Whitehall is payback for the lies that got us involved in Iraq. The Neocons brought America to war in Iraq in the hope that a spectacular victory would shock and awe the rest of the world into kowtowing to the US military. That gamble failed. All America’s expensive firepower has not created a Middle East to its liking. Embarrassingly, for almost a year, it was not even enough to secure the road between Baghdad and its airport.
In a recent poll, only 25 per cent of Americans favour intervention in Syria, even if it is proved that Bashar Assad’s regime used chemical weapons. Even the military is not tempted by this war. On this side of the pond, we underestimate the deep isolationism to the American people. Its elite does want America to continue in its role as the world’s policeman (perhaps because so few of its children serve in the military), but ordinary citizens, for the most part, do not. In my opinion, they show more sense than their ruling class. Foreign adventures have not served America well. Imagine what a better country it would be today had Lyndon Baines Johnson been able to preserve his domestic “Great Society” programmes instead of getting bogged down in Vietnam.
Ever since the Chinese Army crossed the Yalu River in October 1950, the American Army has met more failure than success. Despite spending more on its military than the rest of the world combined, American arms have not translated into effective political power. The United States, with oceans on both sides and much weaker countries north and south is probably the most secure nation on the planet. The average American recognises whoever controls the suburbs of Damascus means nothing at all to his security.
Obama won the 2008 election in part because of his early opposition to the Iraq war. From the beginning of the Syrian conflict, he has understood the dangers of involvement. After the Assad regime’s barbaric chemical attack on civilians in Damascus suburbs, Obama seemed trapped by his “red line” rhetoric. Nonetheless he made clear that any US involvement would be limited and not open ended. Even this proved unpalatable and now he is requesting congressional support to give him political cover. The Senate will most likely support a limited attack but the House, controlled by Republicans may well copy the House of Commons and reject the President’s proposal. I wouldn’t be surprised if that outcome is what Obama is secretly hoping for.
Rory Stewart, the impressive Tory MP who walked across Afghanistan in 2002 and then served as a Deputy Government Coordinator in Southern Iraq under the coalition is no fan of liberal interventionism but still he writes that since chemical weapons have been outlawed any regime that uses them should be punished. His arguments are powerful and convincing. However it looks like the United States is less and less interested in taking on that responsibility. If the era of Pax Americana is coming to a close, perhaps the only solution is a more active and bellicose United Nations military. For too long, the blue helmets of the UN have been hampered by stringent rules of engagement. Now that America is retreating into itself, the UN may be the only institution with the legitimacy to become the world’s policeman. Perhaps that seems an unlikely outcome but what is the alternative?