Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2013/ 5 Tishrei, 5774
War by euphemism
By Rich Lowry
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | When she left the White House the other day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi shared with reporters her conversation with her five-year old grandson.
She recounted how he asked her whether she supported “war” in Syria. Before telling the rest of the story, she paused to note to the assembled journalists the precocious tike’s overly aggressive and politically incorrect language. “Now, he’s five years old … and he’s saying ‘war,’” she explained. “I mean, we’re not talking about war, we’re talking about an action here.”
From the mouth of babes. The child has a better grasp of the connection between words and reality than his grandma. But, no doubt, he will grow out of it. By the time he becomes an elected Democratic official supporting some military intervention or other, he will have learned the necessary argot of euphemism and denial.
Secretary of State John Kerry is a master at it. In his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said, “Let me be clear: President Obama is not asking America to go to war.” He then doubled down on his commitment in an exchange with Sen. Rand Paul: “We don’t want to go to war in Syria, either. It’s not what we’re here to ask. The president is not asking you to go to war.”
Despite his reputation, Secretary Kerry is rigorously consistent —he’s anti-war when he’s opposing a war and testifying against it in Congress, and he’s anti-war when he’s supporting a war and testifying for it in Congress.
All of this word play is profoundly unserious. The last time I checked, Jane’s Defence Weekly doesn’t set aside a special category for the BGM-109 Tomahawk as a “weapon of action." It’s a weapon of war.
It is true, as Kerry said before the committee, that the president isn’t asking for a declaration of war. By that standard, though, almost no military conflict in American history, from the raids on the Barbary pirates to the intervention in Iraq, has been a “war.”
When you initiate hostilities against another country, when you blow up its buildings and military equipment and kill its officials and military personnel — as will almost certainly happen here — you are committing an act of war. The unwillingness to admit as much speaks to the haze of ambivalence hanging over the proposed Syria strikes that goes to the very top.
President Obama can maintain an ironic detachment from almost everything: his own administration, his own country, and now his own war. In Stockholm, he said, “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.” He further explained, “My credibility’s not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’ credibility is on the line.”
You can understand what he’s getting at — there is an international norm against the use of chemical weapons that long pre-dates President Obama, and the country’s credibility is at stake, not just his own — while still marveling at his evasiveness. No one forced Obama to make his red-line warning to Syria; he did it all on his own. As for the international “community,” 1) it doesn’t exist; 2) even if it did, quite a few of its members will be perfectly happy to see Bashar Assad suffer no consequences whatsoever.
Obama is clearly uncomfortable wielding American power and exercising American leadership. It forces him into all the same into all the same expedients that he criticized during his rise to power, when it was George W. Bush resorting to them.
Leading means not letting balky allies define the limits of your actions. When Britain backed out of Syria, the president persisted, even though his alliance had diminished by a third. How times have changed. It used to be that if dozens of foreign countries signed onto a U.S. military intervention, but not France, we were “going it alone.” Now, if we have a military coalition consisting exclusively of France, we are leading the world.
It means refusing to make a fetish of the United Nations. As soon as he took office, the president gave an achingly naive speech to the General Assembly in which he promised “a new chapter of international cooperation.” What did the president get for his good intentions? Nothing. At least Bush tried at the United Nations over Iraq — at the urging, it should be noted, of our ally Britain —and came up short. Obama won’t even bother.
It means, when necessary, turning to force. Not because you like to. Not because you are a “cowboy.” Not because all you have is a hammer and all the world looks like a nail, to borrow a line that Gen. Wesley Clark used all the time about Bush. But because sometimes it is the only way to punish enemies and secure the nation’s interests.
And it means communicating a sense of purpose and resolution. Bush always did this (perhaps to a fault), and was mocked for it mercilessly. Obama doesn’t have that problem. His mixed feelings are too flagrantly on display, as in his dramatic last-minute decision to pull back and go to Congress after having Secretary Kerry give an emotional speech appropriate to the beginning of hostilities.
For supporters of a strike like me, all this temporizing has been painful to behold. The more Obama officials talk, the more fodder they give to opponents. And the administration already had an uphill climb on the right. Even conservative hawks are divided on the merits on this intervention, and the base — weary of war and distrustful of Obama — is largely opposed. Politically, a “no” vote is a free vote for Republicans.
Most of them will be anti-war — just like John Kerry.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment by clicking here.
© 2012 King Features Syndicate