Does Being Anti-Intervention in Syria = "Isolationist"? Only to Hyper-Interventionists and Diehard Obama Supporters.

So it's come to this: If you are against a militarily pointless act of "symbolic killing" that has arisen due to an ad-libbed line by Barack Obama, you're part of the "new isolationism." That's according to Bill Keller, former executve editor of The New York Times and current op-ed columnist there.

His recent essay on the matter is filled with more buts than a X-rated fetish film and enough "to be sures" to fill a coffin, but come on, he argues, if you're against intervening in Syria by lobbing a few cruise missiles specifically designed (according to the Obama administration that would do the lobbing!) not to depose the Assad regime, you're Charles Lindbergh's bastard child (and sorta-kinda anti-Semitic or at least a rube because "isolationists suspect that our foreign policy is being manipulated by outside forces").

Keller doesn't make an argument for what American interests are at stake in Syria. Instead he refers to 

two engrossing new histories of [America's entry into World War II] — “Those Angry Days” by Lynne Olson and “1940” by Susan Dunn — both focused on the ferocious and now largely forgotten resistance Franklin D. Roosevelt had to navigate in order to stand with our allies against Hitler.

Because the parallels are ominous, right, between a world increasingly under the thumb of expansionary totalitarian states in Europe and Asia and...the current government in Damascus? Even Keller can't fake his way through that analogy, so he instead rambles through an argument-in-form-only by tossing off as many non-sequiturs as possible to gloss over the emptiness at the heart of his piece. Snippets:

Of course, 2013 is not 1940. The Middle East is not Europe. President Obama is not F.D.R. But America is again in a deep isolationist mood....

To be sure, nothing has done more to discredit an activist foreign policy than the blind missionary arrogance of the Bush administration....

Isolationism is strong in the Tea Party...

Isolationism is not just an aversion to war, which is an altogether healthy instinct. It is a broader reluctance to engage, to assert responsibility, to commit...

...can we dial down the fears and defeatist slogans of knee-jerk isolationism...

I hope the president can persuade Congress that the U.S. still has an important role to play in the world, and that sometimes you have to put some spine in your diplomacy....

Even one of the historians he cites finds his argument thoroughly unconvincing:

Olson told me she was startled to hear Secretary of State John Kerry inveighing against “armchair isolationism” last week in his testimony on Syria. “I think to be skeptical now does not mean you’re an isolationist,” said Olson, who is herself skeptical about taking sides in Syria. “It’s become a dirty word.”

What is it that Obama is always saying? "Let us be clear," right?

Well, let us be clear: There is no useful comparison between the situation in 1940 and the current day. Period. The attempt to do so is a transparent and unpersuasive ploy to gloss over the absolute lack of a go-it-alone cause of action on the part of America.

Keller hopes 

the president can persuade Congress that the U.S. still has an important role to play in the world, and that sometimes you have to put some spine in your diplomacy. And I hope Americans will listen with an open mind.

Where have you been for the past several weeks, Bill (his whole column is here)?

Some of the people against Syrian intervention are no doubt true isolationists (though not necessarily latter-day American Firsters, eschewing all sorts of interactions with the wider world). But most certainly are not, and they include non-interventionists (who are rightly slow to action, though not categorically opposed to it) and even many war hawks.

Indeed, most of the people opposing Obama's action are thoughtful people who recognize the Syrian gambit for what it is: a sad, ill-conceived, and desperate ploy by a president who has assiduously destroyed whatever good will he had at home and abroad through a series of blunders, missteps, and brazen acts of incompetence and dissembling.

The choice is not between attack on Syria and withdrawal from the world, which virtually no American wants. The choice is between kick-starting America's war machine to defend a glib politician and a more thoughtful response not just to this crisis but all the crises around us now and down the road. If Keller wants a thoughtful alternative, he would do well to read Victor Davis Hanson (no isolationist, he) on the matter:

If the congressional vote is, as I hope, no, Obama should quietly (i.e., don’t blame Congress, the world, the public, etc.) back out of the bombing mode, more quietly continue the belated work of promoting a pro-Western resistance to Assad, mend fences with allies most quietly, and prepare very carefully (but without the bombast) for a real crisis on the near horizon that will need the public, the Congress, our allies, and the president’s full attention and response. In our new Vienna-summit-to-Cuban-missile-crisis era of danger, I fear our enemies and rivals are digesting the Syrian misadventure and calibrating to what degree they might soon turn our present psychodrama into a real American tragedy.

More VDH here.

And assuming that a Syrian intervention happens (Obama has pointedly refused to say whether he would abide a congressional vote to stand down), then the only thing to do is start the clock on Bill Keller's apology for supporting the action. Which is exactly what he did with Iraq, where, as Matt Welch, noted earlier this year, Keller displayed his bona fides as a charter member of the "I-can't-believe-I'm-a-hawk-club" for baby boomers.

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  • Rich||

    Obama should ... prepare very carefully (but without the bombast) for a real crisis on the near horizon that will need the public, the Congress, our allies, and the president’s full attention and response.

    As opposed to all the so-called "crises" he's go going on now?

  • Rich||

    *got*

  • Bee Tagger||

    But America is again in a deep isolationist mood....
    ...
    I hope the president can persuade Congress that the U.S. still has an important role to play in the world, and that sometimes you have to put some spine in your diplomacy.

    Apparently, America's deep isolationist mood is no longer much of a concern if Congress will simply act against the will of the people.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Deep isolationist mood = Uh, dude, like, you've totally been bombing the shit out of several countries for the last 5 years, can we take a breather?

  • John||

    We are in such a deep isolationist mood that people are demanding that troops be brought home for Afghanistan and that we pull out of NATO and our other alliances. No, we just don't want to get into a pointless bombing campaign so Obama feels better about his dick size.

  • SIV||

    I wish we'd pull out of the UN.

  • Killazontherun||

    I remember a Krauthammer cover article for the New Republic in the 80s. Let It Sink. It was eye opening to me as a lad because before then I never even considered the possibility that the UN is part of the problem.

    It is a hive of nepotistic scum, and anti-sovereignty villainy. There's some flunky there demanding of us a reversal of the George Zimmerman case, apparently our due process based system of justice is not results oriented enough for the bureaucrats at the UN. Those parasite need to be crushed and then evicted.

  • John||

    I don't think anyone who reads my posts on here would ever accuse me of being an isolationist. I think there is a place for US intervention and a lot of people on the Libertarian Right are very naive. That said, an intervention that says up front won't end the civil war or do anything but "make a statement" whatever that means and at the same time carries the small risk of war with Russia, is a really bad idea.

    Intervention is fine. But when you do intervene, have a mission that furthers US interest and have an achievable end state that is worth the risks created by the intervention. Obama's proposed intervention into Syria has none of that.

  • Killazontherun||

    That's just the ego defense mechanism talking a little frightened of the changes that are occurring. You stopped being naive when you started to listen to our arguments which are always consequence based. You're growing, and soon you'll be fully assimilated.

  • Killazontherun||

    ego defense mechanism talking, a little frightened

  • John||

    Or maybe this is a really stupid idea that doesn't raise any larger issues beyond it being a dumb idea?

  • Killazontherun||

    I'm kidding with you! There are elements here who adopted every bad excuse to oppose the Iraqis invasion, and not just the good ones, so understand what you are saying.

  • Killazontherun||

    One bad excuse --

    Not sanctioned by the UN.

    The invasion was in compliance with what all parties agreed to after the conclusion of the first war. Only after political heat to oppose was applied did the craven leadership fold and lie about it.

    One good reason --

    'You break it, you fix it' nation building mentality. The invasion should have been nothing more a thorough anal exam for WMDs. Destabilizing the Baathist was not really in our interest given the headache and heartbreak of keeping that country together to keep radical elements, both Al Qauda Sunnis and Iran supporting Shiites, from filling that power vacuum.

  • Killazontherun||

    did the craven leadership of the UN fold and lie about it.

  • John||

    There was no way to invade without the regime falling. And once it did fall, we did have an obligation to rebuild the government. We were an occupying force at that point.

  • Killazontherun||

    I can't believe we didn't compromise at least some senior members of the Baathist party. Certainly Saddam Hussein had to go in the event of an invasion, but what we did, dismissing all Baathist from the ranks of the government and military antagonized a lot of people who could have made the transition run much more smoothly for us.

  • Tony||

    That said,an intervention that says up front won't end the civil war or do anything but "make a statement" whatever that means and at the same time carries the small risk of war with Russia, is a really bad idea.

    Intervention is fine. But when you do intervene, have a mission that furthers US interest and have an achievable end state that is worth the risks created by the intervention. Obama's proposed intervention into Syria has none of that. Obama is president. I mean, fuck, I supported invading Iraq with ground troops over nonexistent WMDs in response to an attack launched by Saudi terrorists.

  • tarran||

    One of the signs that a system is collapsing is when all the movers and shakers start whining and bawling like children.

    Bill Keller, that pain you feel is the end of the totalitarian age you championed. It is collapsing, and the ashes you taste in your mouth are the windblown char from the bits that are allready burning.

    I hope you live long enough to choke on them as punishment for the misery, death, war and poverty you and your kind sowed unto humanity in the name of 'saving' them.

  • John Galt||

    "...the end of the totalitarian age..."

    Imagine a world free of the totalitarian age...

  • ||

    It's easy if you try.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Isolationism has been and always will be "A national policy of abstaining from political or economic relations with other countries." The fact that these people say "isolationism" when they mean something else is a deliberate lie. If you're going to lie in your lede, then why should I bother engaging with you? It's obvious you aren't arguing in good faith.

  • John||

    That is just it. Not believing in humanitarian or Wilsonian wars doesn't make you an isolationist. One of the worst lies the Wilsonians have managed to tell is that anyone who doesn't support international community rule is an isolationist. And shame on the internationalists who are not Wilsonians for letting them tell that lie.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    His recent essay on the matter is filled with more buts than a X-rated fetish film

    Going Up The Old Syrian Road

    Interracial Interventionists #7

    Behind Baathist Behinds

  • Almanian!||

    Ass-ad 9: Deep Penetration

  • John||

    And the people who do favor intervention might want to think twice about hitching their cause to the Village Idiot. Anyone who supports this is staking their political future on Obama not fucking this up. If you believe in a future where US intervention is necessary and proper, it is probably a good idea not to let Obama and his interventions make that case for you.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Yep, what's going to happen to the warmonger caucus if Obama gets a few ships sunk.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    As I've said before; if I thought Obama was using a moment of public sentiment to step on one particularly bothersome Middle East cockroach, and wouldn't get entangled in the question of what kind of government would arise in the aftermath, I would be a great deal less against bombing Syria. Sadly, El Jug Ears learned nothing from the slow decline into Nation Building muddle of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. Like most of his Liberal ilk, Obama is so completely detached from reality that he cannot learn from it. Having decided that Bush's mistake was attacking at all (because he wasn't a Democrat? Probably), Obama and the Liberal Intellectuals are incapable of actually examining those wars and learning anything from them. They actually LIKE the idea of Nation Building; they always like meddling with people that should leave alone.

  • DJF||

    On Dec 6 1941 the "isolationist" USA was

    Shooting on sight all German submarines

    Training thousands of British pilots in uniform in the USA

    Giving billions of dollars of war material to the allies for free

    Capturing German and Italian merchant ships on the high seas

    Building American military bases in Britain

    Seizing the financial assets of Germany/Italy/Japan

    Having full military staff talks planning for war with the Allies

    Carrying British soldiers across the Atlantic in American military transports escorted by American warships

    Etc, etc

    The isolationist US was doing everything possible short of full declared war and today if the US does not do the same with its many “enemies” its called isolationist.

  • John||

    Yeah. We have never been "isolationist". We went to war against the Barbary Pirates. We went to war against England over impressment. We went to war with Mexico to grab Texas and the Southwest. The US has always been an aggressive internationalist nation. We are a great commercial nation and commercial nations are never isolationist.

  • John Galt||

    Yet a single, extremely rare, example of staying out of another nation's internal conflicts equates radical isolationism.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Our leaders' constant Godwinizing would be over-the-top even by the standards of an Internet comment board. Even Youtube commenters wouldn't be so dumb.

  • John Galt||

    What's ironic is our constantly Godwinizing leaders obviously haven't taken a serious look at their storm-trooping selves lately.

  • Almanian!||

    You know who else engaged in a lot of "over-the-top" rhetoric...

  • Almanian!||

    You know who else went "over the top" - LITERALLY - in WWI...

  • John Galt||

    Gavrilo Princip?

  • John Galt||

    All the soldiers in the trenches just before they were mowed down?

  • Almanian!||

    -thousands @ Gallipoli

  • Chaucer||

    Sylvester Stallone?

  • John Galt||

    Keller may say what he pleases, I'm not swayed. No military action against Syria.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Because the parallels are ominous, right, between a world increasingly under the thumb of expansionary totalitarian states in Europe and Asia and...the current government in Damascus?

    Go ahead and laugh, but when the Syrians crank up their vast industrial base for the war effort, and fleets of zeppelins darken the sky over our Nation's capitol, you'll be singing a different tune.

  • John||

    What is even more funny is that the people who are fighting Assad are worse. You are worried about genocidal dictators taking over the world, so your solution is to put Al Quada in charge of Syria?

  • John Galt||

    The second coming of the Assyrians as a world power. Sounds like a story of biblical proportions.

  • Spartacus||

    Whatever historical parallels exist are a lot closer to WWI than the other.

  • AnarchoAlex||

    Can Reason post something that isn't already self-explanitory? I mean, does this headline even need an article underneath it?

  • Number 2||

    I repeat the question I posted under Chapman's article:

    What principle of international law allows Country A to use unprovoked military force against County B in "retaliation" for Country B violating an international accord that Country B never signed in the first place?

    And if no such principle exists, does that mean that Country A is violating international law? And would that not render Country A's political leaders war criminals? And be reported to the International Court of Justice?

  • John||

    There isn't a principle in international law. If Assad used gas, he violated international law. But that doesn't give us the right to go to war with him. To go to war for that reason, you have to get UNSC authorization. And Obama doesn't have that.

    If we are going to reject the UN and say we have a right to go to war whenever we feel it is in our interests, fine. Say that. But Obama doesn't say that. He still claims the mantle of international law. And under international law as it currently stands, going to war with Syria over its use of gas without UNSC approval is illegal. It is not even close.

  • OldMexican||

    Of course, 2013 is not 1940. The Middle East is not Europe. President Obama is not F.D.R. But America is again in a deep isolationist mood...


    "Because the president is black. That's why" - Ed Asner

    The choice is between kick-starting America's war machine to defend a glib politician and a more thoughtful response not just to this crisis but all the crises around us now and down the road.


    Sure. By the way, what was the reason for America's interventionism in 1940, again? Wasn't it also to "kick-start America's war machine to defend a glib politician" who was presiding during the worst economic and financial crisis in history?

  • John||

    I read that about Asner saying that. And I bet it is true. And if it is, doesn't that mean that the country is not ready for a black President primarily because liberals are not mature enough to handle it? If having a black President means liberals are afraid to speak their conscience and give honest criticism, then we really can't have a black President can we? Or at least not a Democratic black President.

  • Killazontherun||

    If the country is not ready to impeach a black president, the country is not ready for a black president. Power unchecked is not suppose to be the American Way.

  • C4LCNCPLS||

    We are a country of laws and if the President and congress ignores the will of the people, they will pay dearly in future elections.

    This is not our war. It belongs to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel. American military is not a mercenary force for hire. America has not been attacked. The problems should be handled by the U.N. Security council.

    Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding the militant rebels and if, they were not doing so, there would not be any problems in Syria right now. Many different religions have lived together in peace for decades only to be attacked by outside militant forces. Remove those outside forces and outside influence and Syria will be fine. Unfortunately, our American military has been leased out to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel to do their dirty work.

  • Aresen||

    "they will pay dearly in future elections."

    I wish that were true. But the fact is that there is damned little chance of an incumbent losing his seat over any substantive issue. Only the swing seats ever change hands regularly. Otherwise it usually takes a sex scandal to bring one of them down.

  • Paul.||

    Biden 2016!

  • creech||

    Is it gauche to note that Mr. Keller graduated from college in 1970 and, instead of enlisting to fight in Vietnam, took a job as a journalist in Portland, OR? Is this a "do as I say, not as I do" moment or what?

  • John||

    Since Keller works for the NYT and no doubt spent the entire 00s making the same accusation against those who supported the Iraq war, it is not gauche at all. In fact, it is entirely appropriate.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Hmmmm....is it too late to call Bill Keller a "chicken-hawk"?

  • Aresen||

    To be sure, nothing has done more to discredit an activist foreign policy than the blind missionary arrogance of the Bush administration....

    It takes an incredible degree of myopia to accuse Bush of "missionary arrogance" without attributing the same to Obama.

    Isolationism is not just an aversion to war, which is an altogether healthy instinct. It is a broader reluctance to engage, to assert responsibility, to commit...

    Uh. I always thought responsibility was 'accepted' rather than 'asserted'. One 'asserts' authority, which is what Keller really means here.

    Of course, if you consider the USA to be the World's Policeman, authority is what you are after.

  • Paul.||

    To be sure, nothing has done more to discredit an activist foreign policy than the blind missionary arrogance of the Bush administration...

    Oh whew, I was wondering when we were going to get to the hat-tips-of-hate disclaimer about the Bush administration.

    "I want to go to war in Syria, but please, make no mistake, I was against Bush foreign policy, so that makes my viewpoint ok."

  • Paul.||

    Isolationism is not just an aversion to war, which is an altogether healthy instinct. It is a broader reluctance to engage, to assert responsibility, to commit...

    Oh hey, show of hands, who remembers the mood of the democrats while Clinton was a lame duck president and Bush was president-elect, about how they were afraid that Bush would be too isolationist, ie, unwilling to 'engage and assert responsibility'?

    Anyone? Yeah, it existed. Democrats were actually afraid Bush wouldn't take any interest in foreign affairs.

  • Killazontherun||

    It's amazing how much of the conventional narrative relies on bad assumptions if not out right bad faith. I can't listen to a news report on any of the networks without making a mental list of the sort of things like what you pointed out there. I suspect those who are protean enough to be careerist in the political and national media realm tend not to be the most reflective people on the planet and the narrative they spin reflects that reality.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Keller's argument is pretty much imbecilic. Yes, isolationists are a subset of those who would oppose this venture. The full set, however, would include pretty much every school of geopolitical thought on the map.

    Liberal Internationalists, as John points out, would properly question the legitimacy of the U.S. initiating war on another country without U.N. approval.

    Realists would question the wisdom of committing our blood and treasure to a venture with no conceivable gains to U.S. interests.

    Even thoughtful Neoconservatives, if they were honest, would be skeptical of the notion of supporting religious extremists against a secular government.

    About the only lines of thinking I can see in support of this venture are plain political hackery, unabashed war-mongering, and proponents of an imperial executive.

  • Killazontherun||

    Did someone say David Frum?

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I was wondering where that came from and then I noticed my "plain political hackery, unabashed war-mongering, and proponents of an imperial executive". Yes, David Frum wins it in a trifecta.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Although, I do have to say, HOLY CRAP!! Even David Frum is demurring on this little escapade

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/03/.....index.html

  • Goldwin Smith||

    (though not necessarily latter-day American Firsters, eschewing all sorts of interactions with the wider world)

    What are the "interactions with the wider world" that the America Firsters opposed that libertarians support?

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