The Ralph Cramden and Lucy Ricardo of American politics
Peter Beinert went to great lengths to explain why John "bomb, bomb, bomb" McCain and his sidekick Huckleberry Graham are braying incoherently (as usual)in their week-end op-ed. Here's an excerpt:
One reason Obama isn’t bombing in Syria yet is that he’s not clear on what the goal would be. McCain and Graham are. “ISIS,” they write, “cannot be contained.” Why not? Hasn’t the U.S. been containing al-Qaeda—ISIS’s estranged older brother—for more than a decade now? But the two senators don’t pause to explain. “It must be confronted,” they declare. What does that mean? If the U.S. is bombing ISIS in Iraq, aren’t we confronting the group already?
McCain and Graham later clarify: The goal is to “defeat ISIS.” Excellent—how do we do that? 1) “It requires an inclusive government in Baghdad that shares power and wealth with Iraqi Sunnis.” OK, Obama just toppled a prime minister in service of that goal. But there are those decades of dictatorship, brutality, and sectarian slaughter to overcome. 2) “Mobilize America’s partners in a coordinated, multilateral effort.” OK, but those “partners”—which include pro-Muslim Brotherhood regimes like Turkey and Qatar and anti-Muslim Brotherhood ones like Egypt and Saudi Arabia—are jockeying fiercely with one another for influence across the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that they don’t listen to us all that much anymore. 3) Bring “an end to the conflict in Syria.”
Let’s pause on number three for a moment. Last year, when George Washington University’s Marc Lynch surveyed scholars of civil wars, he found that “most contributors are … deeply pessimistic about the prospect for ending Syria’s civil war any time soon” because “Syria has among the worst possible configurations [of any civil war]: a highly fragmented opposition, many potential spoilers, and foreign actors intervening enough to keep the conflict raging but not enough to decisively end the war.” McCain and Graham don’t explain how to overcome all this. They simply note, in passing, that defeating ISIS will require ending Syria’s civil war. It’s like writing an op-ed that demands the United States “defeat” climate change and mentioning that, by the way, one of the prerequisites is the elimination of fossil fuels.
Any serious proposal for expanding American military involvement in Iraq into Syria must do one of two things. 1) Explain, in some detail, how bombing ISIS will strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition rather than other Sunni jihadist groups (for instance, al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate) and/or Bashar al-Assad. Or 2) explain why it’s worth bombing ISIS even if we strengthen other Sunni jihadist groups and/or Bashar al-Assad.
It's interesting and it does pose real questions to McCain and Graham in a way that none of the usual gasbags are willing or able to do.
But it too misses the point. McCain and Graham are talking about "optics" not strategy or policy. What they want is for president Obama to go on TV and talk about good and evil and how the oceans don't protect us anymore and how we have to fight the bad guys and "take 'em out." They want tough talk. They need the US to be swinging its great big stick as hard as it can because that is how they perceive influence to be properly wielded. If you are calm or thoughtful or patient, it means you are showing weakness.
These two have perfected a certain act. Graham is the hysterical panic artist given to calling for the smelling salts at the slightest suggestion of a foreign threat who is paired with the macho McCain who says we should just put 'em in a room together and "tell 'em to stop the bullshit". Together they are the perfect Republican couple of the 1950's --- if Ralph Cramden had been married to Lucy Ricardo.