Ten years ago, a strong plurality favored U.S. activism. Asked last week if America should use force to turn dictatorships into democracies, people said no by a remarkable 72 percent to 15 percent.
“A war-weary public that can turn an eye from children being gassed — or express doubt that it happened — is another poisoned fruit of the Bush years,” comments New York Times columnist Tim Egan.
Actually, the great majority, 82 percent in a recent CNN poll, believe that the Assad regime launched nerve gas weapons against its own people. But they’ve also witnessed reports of stupefying barbarities by his enemies, and bitter experience has left people wary of believing that American bombs can make things better. They fear that cruise missiles would only be the catalyst for an interminable, slow-motion grind like the war in Afghanistan, which nearly everybody supported at the start.
This reluctance is also why — assuming the Russian, French, and Syrian agreement holds up —political damage to President Obama for his hesitant, crawfishing approach to the Syrian crisis is apt to prove more limited than Beltway drama critics think. Obama’s ambivalence is widely shared.
As the Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky points out, Republican hypocrisy has been shocking even by GOP standards. During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney took a hawkish line, proposing to arm Syrian rebels and to conduct covert operations against the Assad regime. As recently as April, putative 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio chided Obama’s passivity.
“It is in the vital national security interest of our nation to see Assad’s removal,” he insisted. Regime change!
Last week Rubio voted no in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
If President Obama’s for it, GOP opportunists are against it. The end.
That said, the irony of Russian President Vladimir Putin appearing to rescue Obama from a political trap built by George W. Bush and baited by his own bluffing rhetoric about “red lines” would be almost disabling but for the horrors of nerve gas.