Reluctant (and Later Apologetic) Liberal Iraq Hawk Says Onward to Syria!


Credible, serious. |||

The Obama administration will have a hard time cobbling together even a modicum of popular support for the (inevitable, IMO) U.S. military intervention into Syria without a re-mobilization of that once-noisy but recently scarce tribe of armchair agitators known as the Liberal Hawks. Right on cue comes Bill Keller in today's New York Times, making the argument that "Syria Is Not Iraq." Which is, I suppose, a much more succinct headline than "Listen to Me About Bombing a Middle Eastern Country in 2013 Even Though I Was Totally Wrong About it in 2003."

Keller was an opinion columnist in the run-up to the Iraq War, during which time he christened himself a charter member of the "I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club," a group of world-weary yet responsible souls "who have little in common with President Bush" but "have articulated the case for war better than the administration itself." Many of the "wary warmongers," Keller informed us, "are baby-boom liberals whose aversion to the deployment of American power was formed by Vietnam but who had a kind of epiphany along the way." If there is a Baby Boomerer sentence than that, I haven't encountered it.

Eight years later, after completing a stint as executive editor of The Times and returning to the opinion business, Keller gave us a long, juvenile account of how he had come to support what he now called "a monumental blunder" (hint: "The rest of us were still a little drugged by testosterone"). That navel-inspection exercise concluded that the "costly wisdom of Iraq" required a more cautionary approach, then applied to Libya, to go "more carefully through the mess, weighing the urge to support freedom against the cost of becoming part of a drama we don't fully understand."

Ah, but Keller was so much older then!

[I]n Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.

The United States has supplied humanitarian aid and diplomatic pressure. But our reluctance to arm the rebels or defend the civilians being slaughtered in their homes has convinced the Assad regime (and the world) that we are not serious. […]

Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq. 

You would think that "getting over Iraq" would also mean getting over the elementary school-style argumentation about war demonstrating "credibility" and seriousness, but perhaps it's unsporting to stand between a man and his epiphanies.  

Read Reason's symposium on the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq War.

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  1. It’s real easy to propose a new war when you won’t be the one fighting it.

    1. The golden rule of sales and management: Anything is easy if you don’t have to do it.

  2. I’ll bet anyone here that the Obama administration will not conduct a military intervention into Syria (as defined by US combat troops on the ground in Syria actively attempting to remove Assad).

    1. That’s a lot like saying, “I’ll kick your butt…at Nintendo.”

    2. Who is talking about troops on the ground? Your understanding of the word “military” is sorely lacking.

      1. You don’t post here much, do you?

        The Peanut Gallery is fond of saying “Libya = Iraq. They are exactly the same! Obama is really Bush II”

        1. No. Obama is Bush III.

        2. Yeah, Obama didn’t end the Iraq war on Bush’s schedule.

        3. You mean it’s one of your favorite strawmen.

        4. Correction: Shriek is fond of pretending that people here equate Iraq and Libya absent any evidence that this is the case.

          1. Damn you. I have to leave now but I will make it a point to go back to the Libya articles and find it later.

  3. Cynic alert: Normally I would say, yes, “getting serious” in Syria would look like a tempting distraction from domestic economic woes. However, I don’t see it happening. I think they’re going to recognize this as the bad kind of distraction. People like Keller are putting their liberal cred on the line for nothing.

    1. Good point. But if Syria counter-attacks Israel in any way, then we may see more pressure for us to “do something.”

      1. Does giving Israel permission to respond count as doing something?

        1. Not in my book. Syria may be too shrewd to launch a direct attack against the much better equipped Israel but it will also be hard for them to just sit back and let their sovereignty be challenged by their arch enemy.
          If the situation escalates, the US may do more of its euphemistic no-fly-zone stuff or something else passive aggressive.

          1. I doubt they really need us for that.

  4. Drone, drone, drone the Earth
    Gently – can’t you see?
    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
    drones snuff out a dream…

    OK everybody, now let’s do it as a round!

    Group 1: Drone, drone, drone the Earth….

    Group 2: Drone, drone, drone the Earth….

    Group 3: Drone, drone, drone the Earth

  5. who had a kind of epiphany along the way.



  6. Why doesn’t he just admit that he has no morality on which to base such a decision and thus will believe whatever the majority of the people he speaks to believe? Its banal but at least honest.

  7. The ego of these people is literally astounding. This guy actually thinks his opinion matters for something. Amazing.

  8. Keller and other warboners should be advocating the repeal of the US. Law (passed, as I recall, after the Spanish Civil War) that prohibits U.S.citizens from volunteering in such fights, or giving money.
    If Keller et al want to go fight Assad, our government should not stand in the way.

    1. The Neutrality Act predates the Spanish Civil War:…..ct_of_1794

      1. …and I’m “statist” enough to think that private citizens shouldn’t usurp the sovereign prerogative of the US government to declare war.

      2. Neutrality Act is interesting. I wonder if it was invoked against those who joined the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War or Americans who joined British or French air squadrons against Germany before the U.S. entered the war?

  9. Does he really think the issue is “freedom?” He’s a bigger fool than Madeline Albright.

    1. I call shenanigans. He’s a fool, but he’s needs to step his game way up to beat Albright.

  10. Whatever Keller is wrong about, there is a big difference between bombing a country and occupying a country. There’s also a big difference between the Bush Administration picking a fight with Saddam Hussein and the People of Syria picking a fight with Assad.

    Whether helping the rebels in Syria is in our best interests is an open question, but there’s no reason to pretend that Syria is just like Iraq.

    There is one important way in which Syria is like Iraq! Whether Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons shouldn’t have made any difference in the calculation as to whether we bombed, invaded, and occupied Iraq, and whether Assad used chemical weapons shouldn’t make any difference in that calculation either. The overarching factor that determines whether we send small arms to the Syrian resistance should be whether it is in our best interests to do so.

    P.S. The determining factor shouldn’t be whether Iraq was a failure, either.

    1. The progressive mindset is that it’s better if there is no national interest. That way the war can be good and pure and cleansing, and not icky like a war driven by banal self interest.

      1. They’re wrong about that.

        That’s more of a neoconservative mindset, if you ask me, but I remember here at Hit & Run during the Iraq War, when they were arguing that it wasn’t really about WMD anyway–it was about helping the Iraqis. How selfish of me to question whether what we were doing was in our best interests!

        If only we’d thought more about what was in our best interests–instead of who had biological weapons during the anthrax attack.…..iraq_x.htm

        1. The neocons just think that creating friendly democracies *is* in the national interest.

      2. And they also like wars that are not fought to win. They really hate the US winning. So they love half ass wars. And half ass wars are worse than full on wars. Full on wars are long and hard but result in a resolution of the issues that caused the war in the first place. Half ass wars like the liberals love never solve anything and nearly always create new conflicts and reasons for future wars.

      3. The ideal liberal war is Kosovo. The US bombed and killed a bunch of people who don’t matter in the name of saving a few people who probably were not in much danger. But it was cheap, few Americans died and it was quick. The fact that it poisoned American relations with Russia for the next generation doesn’t matter. It made liberals feel good.

        1. Taking sides with al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists over sovereign Yugoslav federal troops was just another bit of nuance, too, I’m sure.

    2. Whatever Keller is wrong about, there is a big difference between bombing a country and occupying a country.

      I don’t really understand why there’s much of a diplomatic difference. Both are legitimate acts of war. Occupation is clearly a far greater expense/commitment. But diplomatically?

      1. Occupation makes us responsible for what happens afterwards. We will stay until things get good enough for us to leave, or things get so bad that we have to leave.

        We’re still waiting for things in Germany to get good enough for us to leave. We don’t want a situation like Vietnam, again, where things are so bad, we’re forced to leave.

        Much better to do operations like Panama–where you bug the f out shortly after you got what you came for–or operations like Libya–where you never put boots on the ground in the first place.

        From an American interests’ perspective, nobody feels compelled to sit in Libya until peace and freedom reign–because we didn’t break it and because none of our troops died there.

        Much better from a U.S. interests’ perspective to never send in troops.

        1. “Much better from a U.S. interests’ perspective to never send in troops.”

          All the reasons George Bush, Sr. didn’t invade and occupy Iraq?

          Were still the right reasons for George Bush, Jr. not to invade and occupy Iraq.

          He should have listened to his father. Jim Baker wouldn’t have made these mistakes. Cheney was the worst of his father’s advisers, but those Bush people always put more faith in trust than ability.

          It’s never about who’s right with them–it’s always about who they think they can trust to be loyal to them. His father had the same character flaw–he just got lucky with better advisers.

    3. One other way Syria is like Iraq is that we are going to spend a ton of money we don’t have killing a bunch of people and pissing off almost everybody else in order to get rid of one terrible government and put in place another terrible government.

      Most of what I see of the differences being cited between Syria and Iraq seems to me to be the difference between being bitten by a shark and mauled by a grizzly bear. Yes, those are two entirely different things but the end result is going to be bad either way.

      1. Not having American troops on the ground is not the same as having American troops on the ground.

        In terms of casualties, obviously; in terms of how compelled we feel to stay there; in terms of cost!

        Libya cost us one-tenth of one percent of what Iraq cost us–in treasure.

        1. We made some of it back when the Europeans restocked their armaments.

  11. “Look, I realize I’m recommending the same thing I recommended all those other times when it turned out I was completely wrong and demonstrated astoundingly poor judgement. But that doesn’t matter. This time is different.

    1. Sooner or later, the advice has to work, right? That will completely make up for all the times it was wrong.

    2. “You fucked up. You trusted [me].”

  12. Incidentally, the time to start objecting to the president waging an illegal war in Syria isn’t after he starts waging an illegal war in Syria.

    We should start demanding–right freaking now–that Congress either declare War on Syria or that no action in Syria is taken by the president. If Congress doesn’t have the stones to declare war, then Obama has no business attacking Syria directly.

    Not having a declaration of war might not preclude arming the Syrian resistance with small arms, but at least we wouldn’t be attacking Hezbollah directly.

    1. “If Congress doesn’t have the stones…”

      The only thing Congress has the stones to do is declare war on the people RIGHT FLIPPIN’ HERE.

    2. As Obama demonstrated in Libya, he doesn’t give a fuck whether congress authorizes his attacks or not.

      1. Well, let’s get that out in front of the American people before the shooting starts.

        Seems like most of the time we’re making those arguments, it’s already spilt milk.

        And that’s the way people treat the argument, after the fact, too. Why cry over spilt milk?

  13. Just goes to show that Iraq was a heart a Wilsonian war and not some neocon conspiracy. Liberals only turned against it when it became political advantageous to do so.

    The problem with intervening in Syria is intervene to do what? I seriously doubt any of these people have the stomach to send 150,000 troops in there and take the place over like we did in Iraq. So what do they plan to do?

    My guess is they want to just do what they did in Libya. Come and and randomly bomb people and then leave after the war is over patting themselves on the back for how noble they are. That, sounds like an exceptionally stupid idea. If there is one thing worse that a war, it is a war fought in a half assed manor.

    1. half assed manor

      I’d love to see pics of your house…

      1. A half assed manor is better than no manor.

        1. I prefer my architecture to be like my chaps, assless.

          1. “Assless chaps” is stupid. Standard chaps hang your ass out. Its like talking about “Asssed pants”.


            1. So do you side with the “it’s not a hot water heater” crowd too?

              1. Mine is one of those tankless ones. I assume it works by applying heat to the water as it passes through. Towards the outlet pipe, it is almost certainly heating hot water. Although I just refer to it as the water heater.

              2. Yes I do – and I don’t go to the ATM machine either.

    2. I think that they want to provide logistical support for a Turkish invasion, since Turkish conscripts, like newscaster Morbo’s children are numerous and belligerent.

      The problem is that everybody else in the area get twitchy at the idea of the Turks invading neighboring countries… for some baffling reason. 😉

      Also the Russians would be pissed – they don’t want to lose their navy base in the Med. And Turkey is pretty vulnerable to Russian punitive attacks.

      IF Obama wasn’t so fucking incompetent, and surrounded by such incompetence, a negotiation with the Russians to engineer Assad’s replacement would be possible. The Russians are worried about losing access to the Mediterranean. It’s not a big base, it basically can refuel ships, and that’s it.

      Instead the Obama admin is apparently backing themselves into an ill thought ‘Guns of August’ scenario where they will stupidly get into a fight with Russia.

      1. A fight with a country that is slowly losing its great power status, paranoid as hell, run by a corrupt autocrat, and has thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles is a pretty scary thought.

        And you are right. Our only hope is that the Russians realize that Obama is actually this stupid and incompetent. If they don’t realize that, they will logically conclude the US is out to get them.

        Both the US and Russia have an interest in containing Islamic nuts. And it is not the cold war anymore. It shouldn’t matter to us if Russia has a base on the med. There is no excuse other than total incompetence that Russia and US haven’t come up with some kind of compromise government to replace Assad and with both of our help, kill the Islamists.

        1. A fight with a country that is slowly losing its great power status, paranoid as hell, run by a corrupt autocrat, and has thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles is a pretty scary thought.

          Are you referring to Russia, or to the USA?

          1. Is Obama really competent enough to deserve the title “Autocrat”? Can you be an autocrat when Valarie Jerrett and your wife actually wield all of the power?

            1. Does Michelle wield any political power?

              I thought she was all about expensive vacations, and a weird fixation on starving my children.

              BTW, I should thank Michelle for teaching my children to hate govt central planners from a young age (they slashed the lunch rations again last week and my kids are pissed).

              1. She does share a bed with Jarett who does wield political power. So that has to translate to something. Right?

      2. “It’s not a big base, it basically can refuel ships, and that’s it.”

        If that’s what it does then the russian’s aren’t worried about losing it for practical reasons (only symbolic ones). American warships can and do refuel and resupply at ports other than american bases in the med and elsewhere and the russians could (and probably do, if only for food and water) also.

    3. Don’t sweat it, John. President Peace Prize will figure out how to protect the good guys, kill the bad guys, and lead the chorus of Kumbaya afterwards.

      1. Just like the Lord of Half Ass Manor did in Benghazi.

  14. And, seriously, although I’m presently leaning in favor of sending small arms to the Syrian resistance, the best criticism of doing so, I think, is that we would be picking a fight with Hezbollah.

    Hezbollah is all over Syria fighting for Assad against the Syrian resistance, and if we don’t want to pick a fight with a terrorist organization that really hasn’t targeted us directly (since elements of what coalesced into Hezbollah attacked our Marine barracks back in 1982), then that’s an excellent reason not to get involved in Syria.

    We would be, effectively, opening up another front in the War on Terror–as if Al Qaeda weren’t enough? And when I say, “We’d be opening up another front”, I don’t just mean us shooting at them. Hezbollah almost certainly would retaliate against us. I mean, why wouldn’t they?

    Like I said, I’m still leaning towards helping the Syrian rebels, but if doing so is really in our own best interests, then it’s going to have to be in our best interests despite making ourselves a direct target of Hezbollah. Sometimes, though, I think we get lost in arguing about what’s in the headlines–instead of the real issues.

    Who’s talking about Hezbollah? Who’s talking about making sure the Constitution is followed in regards to declaring war?

    1. The Syrian govt is a strategic ally of the Russians. The Russians are the elephant in the room. How many SSBN’s does Hezbollah have?

      1. Would the Russians agree to have a strategic ally who didn’t support Hezbollah and generally try to fuck up the entire region?

        I am frankly not sure. They should agre to such a thing. But sometimes Putin just like to watch things burn.

        1. I think the Russians would!

          The Russians like stability at this point. They are completely inward looking.

          I am really baffled by what the State department is trying to achieve in the middle east, because I don’t see a coherent doctrine. I am increasingly reminded of the first chess game I played against my son. And it ain’t pretty.

      2. I don’t know. Surely a post-Assad regime would know it’s more economical to keep using Russian-made arms than to become a US client state, and they’ll probably need the rent from those bases, too.

    2. Congress has already issued the President a blank check in the form of the AUMF, haven’t they? Isn’t that the justification for Obama dronestriking whoever wins the Big Ol’ Wheel-O’-Death lottery every morning?

      1. He’s use that justification if he had to, I’m sure.

        And if all we get of the exercise of protesting the unconstitutionality of Obama attacking Syria directly is an excellent excuse to finally get rid of the AUMF?

        Then I’ll be glad we raised hell on those constitutional objections.

        1. Unfortunately, Congress has no desire to walk back their abdication of responsibility – they will be more than happy to trumpet their support or opposition to ‘Obama’s War’ depending on how the electorate feels, but it damn sure will be Obama’s War – even if that abdication is pretty obviously unconstitutional. And you’re obviously not a ‘serious’ person if you ask whether or not it is constitutional rather than if it is right.

          The whole point of assigning Congress the sole authority to declare war was specifically to keep stuff like this from happening. But of course, lots of the Constitution was designed to keep our government from becoming what it has become.

  15. God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us.
    – Niccolo Machiavelli

    Likewise, neither should the state do all things for its people nor should great nations undertake to order the affairs of lesser ones.

  16. FTFA: A failed Syria creates another haven for terrorists

    With all due respect, unlike the United States?

    1. If we’re worried about a failed Syria, aren’t we arming the wrong side?

  17. So, if I’m understanding Keller right, the “lessons learned” from Iraq extend precisely from the time that he realizes that the war proved unpopular until the next opportunity to engage in adventurism. At that point we need to “get over” said lessons.

  18. and if the US goes into Syria, what will happen and how will anyone know whether this was worthwhile? The adminstration fumbled much of the aftermath of Iraq and while a bad guy is gone, no one is really sure what is replacing him.

    In Egypt, the US-supported ‘bad guy’ is gone, moved along by POTUS’ claims of “Mubarak must go” and he’s been replaced by something arguably worse. In Libya, lather/rinse/await likely repetition as the ‘bad guy’ we had, more or less, under control is to be replaced by something possibly worse. Who the hell knows if what replaces known bad guy Assad is an improvement? No one.

    1. So you’re saying that results matter more than intentions? How are you enjoying your visit to our planet so far?

    2. Do we even have any idea who, exactly, the Syrian “resistance” is? I know it’s kind of an afterthought, since the Assad regime is all mean and stuff. But, I seem to notice a pattern here of, we support the removal of “bad guys” and wind up with bastards who hate us. Somehow, I just don’t think that amounts to a rational policy.

      1. What for? We had known precisely dick about the Libyan resistance when we threw in with them.

  19. I watched John McCain on Fox News Sunday, yesterday. One thing struck me. Mr. McCain argued that Mr. Obama should never have set out a “red line” on Syria. That having done so put U.S. prestige and credibility at stake (granted, he followed up by calling for MOAWR WAWR!!!). And, you know, when even John McCain is faulting your saber-rattling for undermining U.S. interests, you know you’ve gone off the interventionist deep-end.

    1. I find McCain’s stance incoherent. He was ready to fight the Russians over South Ossetia for crying out loud.

      1. Well, my understanding is that McCain was criticizing Obama for drawing the red line. Partly, this was an argument for strategic ambiguity (which I can actually suport) and partly this was an argument for not going to war immediately with Syria (because McCain just can’t get himself enough WAWR!!!).

    2. It also tells you how all of these people are really just politicians at heart whose only loyalty is to their own persona and popularity. These are not philosophers or even principled people. They are for things before they are against them and so on. I’m just sick to death of having foolish, malevolent people rule over us. At least give us a wise malevolent leader just for a change. Not really, but you know what I mean.

  20. As if we didn’t have enough to occupy ourselves with back home, now we seek out yet another external conflict on which to blame our internal problems.


  21. Since we’re already providing support for the Syrian rebels, we’re already involved.

    The question is when do we escalate to air support. My guess is after Election Day, unless events dictate otherwise.

  22. “Many of the “wary warmongers,” Keller informed us, “are baby-boom liberals whose aversion to the deployment of American power was formed by Vietnam but who had a kind of epiphany along the way.”

    . . .But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

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