It has been said that history tends to repeat itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. This aphorism is worth recalling on the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, as the posturing of the American and Syrian government leaders takes on an increasingly farcical tone.
For the past couple of weeks, the Obama Administration has been attempting, with little success, to sell the idea of an attack on Syria to the American public and its representatives in Congress. The rationale for what Secretary of State John Kerry has promised would be an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort” — a statement that seems based on the transparently ludicrous premise that acts of war against another nation can go forward on the assumption that they won’t lead to any prolonged unpleasantness — remains deeply unclear.
The official line from the Obama Administration is that the U.S. armed forces would fire a few missiles and drop a few bombs on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, in such a manner as to “degrade” their ability to carry out chemical-weapon attacks on their own people, but not so forcefully as to constitute an attempt to shift the balance in the Syrian civil war.
The most charitable thing that can be said for the Administration’s statements is that no one seems to be taking them seriously. Indeed, public and legislative support for what looks like a plan to blow up an “unbelievably small, limited” number of foreigners in order to make a fundamentally symbolic gesture has been so tepid that on Monday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice pulled out the second Bush Administration’s favorite post-9/11 playbook.
Rice warned that chemical weapons in Syria are “a serious threat to our national security,” going so far as to claim that the (alleged) use of such weapons by Assad’s forces in the civil war “threaten our soldiers in the region and even potentially our citizens at home.”
Assad seems more than willing to play along with this fearmongering, complete with comparisons to 9/11-proportion catastrophes, telling interviewer Charlie Rose that if the U.S. military attacks Syria, the American people “should expect everything — not necessarily from the government.” The latter phrase is clearly an allusion to the regime’s allies in Iran and among the militant group Hizballah.
Fortunately, it appears that the American public can no longer be swayed so easily by the kind of panic-inducing rhetoric that led to the Iraq catastrophe in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The idea that whatever chemical weapons the Syrian regime possesses pose a threat to “our citizens at home” is nonsensical on its face. It is a prime example of the abuse of the concept of “weapons of mass destruction” in a transparent attempt to play on public fears for political purposes.
Rice’s comments seem to have gone over like a lead balloon — which may help explain why the Administration now appears to be seizing on the Russian proposal that military action could be averted if the Assad regime turns over its chemical weapons to international forces.
Twelve years after 9/11, the American public has grown weary of the cynical exploitation of that tragedy for the purposes of the favored military adventurism of the moment — and not a moment too soon.