President Obama must have had his mind made up as far as the tack he was going to take with Bashar al Assad from the start. When suspicion began to grow over Assad’s use of chemical weapons during the civil war raging in Syria, Mr. Obama called John McCain to the White House to discuss America’s possible response. You don’t ask Elmer Fudd how to deal with wabbits without having a pretty good idea of what the advice is going to be.
The same person who referred to Obama contemptuously as "That one" during his own failed bid for the Oval Office, gave the president exactly the response he was hoping for. If no one was surprised by McCain’s storm-the-beaches recommendations, a lot of us wondered why a man in whom we had placed such faith was even turning to someone like McCain for counsel in this particular instance. McCain was full of advice for George W. Bush, too, and look where that got us.
Mr. McCain has parlayed being shot down on his first sortie over Vietnam into a political career the longevity of which is only surpassed by the senator’s chronic inability to come to grips with lessons learned in the past. There is nothing that can’t be solved by fiery explosions and the rat-tat-tat from AK-47s that play like rousing Irving Berlin paeans to American greatness, at least to people of Mr. McCain’s ilk.
Bombs are not particularly choosy as far as what or whom they destroy. It is estimated that to date 176 children have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The administration has shirked any responsibility for those deaths with the Dr. Seussian logic of keeping the drone program classified and thereby exempting it from public debate or even official acknowledgment. We probably should be flattered that they didn’t insult our intelligence by claiming that the massive explosions were some kind of natural phenomena common to that unsettled region of the world.
Drone strikes in Pakistan shred the bodies of kids who are loved by their parents in exactly the same way that Americans cherish their own children. Small wonder the government doesn’t want to discuss the issue. Bush didn’t want the public to see the bodies of soldiers killed in Iraq either. It puts such a damper on unbridled patriotism.
Another notable survivor of the Vietnam morass has also come forth beating the war drums as if he was auditioning for a part in the Bush administration, not a highly-placed member of the one that was supposed to clean up the ungodly mess left by it. Secretary of State John Kerry, his chiseled features set in stony resolve and not a hair out of place, has pronounced Assad’s actions to be "unacceptable." It easy to imagine Kerry using that word if the teak decking on his custom-made yacht wasn’t polished to a certain luster, but as far as rationale for dropping bombs onto people who have to scramble to find their next meal, it lacks a certain potency. I’m always amazed at how easily people who have never wanted for a single thing in their entire lives can reduce to rubble the little that others have.
Mr. Kerry, who for all the world sounds as if he’s making another pass at the White House, gets testy when someone refers to any military intervention in Syria as a "war." Remember this ploy? W’s rose by any other name cost the United States over $1 trillion, killed, maimed, or displaced millions of people in the Middle East, killed 4,400 American servicepeople, and is still going on today. But those horrors were all mitigated by the fact that politicians never called it a war.
I guess Syria is going to be another one of those limited action maneuvers that always manage to go on quite a bit longer than the word "limited" might imply to the uninitiated. You have to wonder, listening to Mr. Kerry, if he actually believes that parsing words is going to ameliorate the image of the United States once it starts incinerating citizens of another sovereign nation despite the assurance of an almost universal condemnation for doing it -- again!
In an understatement that can only be described as gargantuan, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has said that the American public’s wary response to the president’s pique is "understandable." He didn’t use the phrase "thrice burned," but did manage to work in "boots on the ground," an official colloquialism that someone has polished up for this particular situation (no pun intended).
The president is poised to launch a massive campaign to build support for his quest to avenge the deaths of Mr. Assad’s victims and perhaps install someone who is a little more receptive to American interests in the oil-rich region. Given the conspicuous lack of support in both congress - which finally seems to have managed to come to a consensus about something - and the American people, I certainly don’t envy him. Johnny Depp had an easier job trying to sell "The Lone Ranger" and Obama doesn’t even have the massive resources of the Disney conglomerate pulling for him.
Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.