Mr. President, if I were a professional con artist paid to give you the pros and cons on engaging in a war in Syria, here’s what they would be:
As you know, former president Clinton, probably understood by many to also be speaking on behalf of his wife, has called you a wuss. Virtually nobody remembers or cares that you said “I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” The majority of Americans, exercising that mindset, want you to get us into a new war in the first place if the alternative is having a wuss in the White House. I don’t have a poll on that, but trust me.
This is not contradicted by public opposition to U.S. engagement in the war in Syria (as seen in the polls). If U.S. casualties are minimized and if the financial cost can come out of the base DOD budget — at least at first — then the political cost is negligible while the political gain is enormous. Unless you drag this out. The military budget is being increased right now, and in violation of the sequester, and nobody gives a rat’s ass. They think it means jobs and non-wussiness. Unless you drag it out.
With regard to claims of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government, the best approach is to claim certainty, and to insist on the necessity of secrecy for the evidence. You’ve had a great deal of success with this approach on drone kills, NSA programs, etc. Let the conversation focus on a demand for the evidence. This allows you to talk about the scary dangers requiring secrecy, and to question whether your opponents have the appropriate level of patriotic barbarism.
Meanwhile, everyone has completely forgotten that both sides in Syria are using hideous weaponry and committing horrible atrocities, while we’re only aiding one side rather than both. Nobody, in this framework, will be capable of thinking about the internationally condemned weapons we deploy, or wondering whether killing Syrians to prevent Syrians from being killed by the wrong kind of weapons even makes sense in our humanitarian (wink wink) scenario. Much less will the legality or morality of using war to prevent war be questioned or even be questionable. Keep the focus on the extensive evidence of chemical weapons use by Assad, one of the few individuals in the world — we should say constantly — evil enough to do such a thing. Stop mentioning Syria at all. Always refer to Assad.
Key also is swiftness. Get this battle started! Get progress and movement toward victory underway immediately. If possible get a very small number of Americans killed, and killed by Assad. Remember that the resistance to the 2003 invasion of Iraq shriveled away once the invasion happened, and that the same sort of resistance is not even here now for you. Your image is firmly established as a non-killer. Your telling the New York Times about your kill list terror-Tuesday meetings did nothing to change that. Your bin-Laden announcement did nothing to change that. The danger for you is not Texan sadist. The danger for you is Wuss.
The secondary danger is drawing the thing out. You’ve been able to escalate and prolong the war on Afghanistan for five years only because you’ve labeled it your predecessor’s war. The House just voted that you only get another year-and-a-half there unless they vote again. I know, I know, it’s cute how they think we give a shit what they vote for. But Syria is not Bush’s war. If you drag it out you’ll be in trouble. And here’s why you might: The people of Syria are largely against the rebels and will be even more strongly against the United States or NATO. There won’t even be a momentary flowers-and-chocolate welcome. Both sides are heavily armed already, and the more popular side is winning. You’re proposing to fight on the less popular side in support of overthrowing a more popular government in exchange for a government that could end up opposed to Iran, but which will also be opposed to the United States, not to mention its opposition to restraint in mutilating and murdering blasphemers. There will be a temptation to try to fix and control what is guaranteed to be broken and uncontrollable. And that’s if the whole thing doesn’t expand internationally into a broader war involving several nations and costing you practically as much as Wussihood.
So, what you need is swiftness and overwhelming strength, devastation sufficient to shock and awe the Syrians as it were. And then get the hell out of there and leave those people to their catastrophe. That would be my advice. You don’t need, and the weapons makers and contractors who will show you their gratitude don’t need, a lengthy war in order to profit. You need an example of a successful war that can be held up as potentially needed again. Because, of course — while you must absolutely not say this yet — this is what will get you into Iran. And Iran is where the real men go, Mr. President.
You need to clamp down on Senator McCain and all other voices connecting Syria to Iran. The two need to be separate and happen sequentially. You need to control the media by continuing to beat the existing sticks of intimidation, while offering some carrots as well. Do they want to break the story of the chemical weapons evidence? Do they? Do they? Then they need to watch what they say. This can be a win-win for everyone involved, Mr. President. The footage of the bombing of Syrian air defense batteries in urban centers will be stunning. It should come before the Fourth of July.
Footage from the ground in those cities, however, should be banned under the threat of indictment for aiding the enemy. This is important. Syria is not Libya. A lot more people are going to die, and we do not want those images except in one key case. We want the death of Assad on every television. And we want it from a bomb, not a night raid. We want to justify the killing of tens of thousands through the killing of someone so demonized that his killing justifies all killing. At that point, you can forget anyone caring about the fate of Syria. Just look at Iraq. It’s worse off right now than Syria is, and I can count on one hand the number of Americans who give a damn.
Courage, Mr. President! Don’t be a wuss!
David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.