No time to lose

Back in the days when the Democrats had a filibuster-proof Senate, complete control of the House and received a resounding mandate with the vote for President, the Senate took up the issue that had been the burning desire of Democrats since the early 1990s: healthcare reform. And given that they started from the Republican position on subject, indeed one that the Democrats rejected in the first Clinton term because it was too right-wing (eliminating single-payer, adopting “market”-based reforms relying on competition, etc.) and given that an additional push was given by the President’s sops to industry (no rescinding of the order to allow cheap drug imports and so forth), the legislation should have been an easy task to pass the popular legislation. But the Senate instead decided to tie itself up in agonizing knots, allowing several committee chairs to play Hamlet, permitting Max Baucus to maximize his relationship with the insurance industry for his next career (and that of his aides), and watching Joe Lieberman preen as only Joe Lieberman could. As a result, the legislation was able to pass only by the skin of the Administration’s teeth, it became astonishingly unpopular (although the minor tweaks it provided all remain popular because they are not considered part of the legislation) and the right-wing in this country was able to mobilize the mob with a rallying cry against Big Government.

What a difference an issue makes.

Yesterday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in fewer than four times authorized the military which spends half the annual global budget for weapons to do its will against Syria. With such speed by persons used to act at a snail’s pace, it is not surprising that no serious inquiry into the details was made. It seems to me that an obvious question is about how the purported rationale is to be carried out. The Administration seems to be hanging its metaphorical hat on the need to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons. But if that is the goal, how is that to be accomplished without troops to cordon off the weapons cache? Is the plan to so flatten the area for miles around the supposed weapons sites that none can be accessed by our “enemies”? That doesn’t sound like a limited response to vindicate international law. And I don’t believe the Administration will like the PR that will result. And exactly how do we know where those weapons are? If we had such accurate intelligence, wouldn’t the case be advanced with more certainty than the less than certain assurance that it is the al-Assad regime behind their use.

But, of course, it was never the intention of this committee to give advice or informed consent to the Administration. And that can be seen from the amendments attached to the Administration’s proposed authorization. The committee is filled with “moderate” Republicans. By “moderate” is meant: they are willing to go along with the President’s use of force if he agrees to use more force than he wants. John McCain has long been a supporter of the Syrian opposition forces. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that John McCain has long been the advocate of maximal use of U.S. armed forces whenever a colorable reasons exists or can be invented. And so he prevailed on the always pliable Democrats to add the following language:

A comprehensive US strategy in Syria should aim, as part of a coordinated international effort, to degrade the capabilities of the Assad regime to use weapons of mass destruction while upgrading the lethal and non-lethal military capabilities of vetted elements of Syrian opposition forces, including the Free Syrian Army.

One can be excused for thinking that substantially increasing the mandate for the use of force would have required more investigation. But that was never the point. The point was to get Republicans on board, stop the carping, spread the political risk when there is failure. As a result Jeff Flake and Bob Corker joined the resolution. Now the Administration is authorized to go all in. But at least there are three Republicans in agreement. And the Democratic Party under this President has dedicated itself to bipartisanship at the expense of good policy.

So, no missiles have left their launch pads as we already have an expansion of the mission that many have worried about. Quagmire = long-term profits = long-term political contributions = perpetual re-election. The equation that long ag replaced “of the people, by the people and for the people” at Washington, D.C., gift shops.

The debate will soon shift from “should we engage in a limited operation to support international law?” to “how much more should we become involved in this civil war given that our side is losing?” Fortunately that will allow this Senate to tie itself up in agonizing knots that will aside from the death and destruction it will bring will prevent it from considering legislation that would promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. I suspect that last part is something they were never considering in any event.

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