Quotes of the day

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday delivered a strong call for action in Syria, pushing the need for a response to the use of chemical weapons and stressing that the mistakes of Iraq will not be repeated. …

“History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency,” Kerry said. “These things we do know.” …

Kerry said the intelligence community is “more than mindful of the Iraq experience.”

We will not repeat that moment,” Kerry said.


President Obama, with Great Britain having rejected military action in Syria, finds himself on the verge of pursuing the very kind of go-it-alone approach that he accused his predecessor of using in Iraq.

Obama, though, may not even have a “coalition of the willing” at his back, as George W. Bush did, should he choose to pursue the military option in Syria. America’s most vital ally, Great Britain, effectively pulled out before the fireworks began, when the House of Commons voted against military action on Thursday evening.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday rejected the notion that the current situation is in any way similar to the run-up to the Iraq war under the George W. Bush administration.

“I think that there are some very important differences. What we saw in that circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country, with the final goal being regime change,” he said.


Obama pledged Wednesday that any action against Syria would be small in scale and short in duration. He said he’s “not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about.”

In 2003, President George W. Bush made it clear from the outset that Saddam Hussein had to leave power, or be forced out. “The day of your liberation is near,” Bush told the Iraqi people two days before the attack began.

At issue in Iraq were alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, accusations of human rights violations, and purported links to terrorist organizations.

But in Syria, Kerry said Friday, the goal of a U.S. action is “to ensure that a despot’s brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons is held accountable.”


Most of the Arab world opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The entire Arab League except Kuwait condemned the war. And Turkey denied the U.S. use of its military bases. This time around, most of the Arab world, with the exceptions of Iraq and Lebanon, supports strikes against Assad, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey are in talks to potentially participate in the military operation.

Remember Freedom Fries? France and much of Europe weren’t wild about going to war in Iraq. France is now spearheading the effort to oust Assad, although Germany and southern Europe remain skeptical of military involvement. Britain, of course, was as much on board with Iraq in 2003 as it is with Syria in 2013.

This time, there’s next to no doubt they actually exist. The pretense for the war in Iraq was disproven: Hussein’s alleged WMD stockpiles were never found. In this case, the international community has, with the exception of Russia and Iran, accepted and condemned the use of chemical gas in Syria last week that killed as many as 1,300 people.


Isn’t a high level of skepticism of optional involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts rather warranted after what happened with Iraq?

There’s a lot of talk about, oh, is this Iraq or is it Rwanda? I tend to agree with the notion that this is closer to Kosovo, with the main difference being that the opposition is not as trained or coherent as the KLA was. The rationale for going in matters. [With Iraq, it was] the notion that it was connected to 9/11 and had WMDs, both of which turned out not to be true. You also had a nation that was in a position of relative stability, not an existing civil war that we decided to engage in where people were being slaughtered. It was a country that was incredibly repressive but relatively stable, and we went in and changed that. Here is a situation where people are dying in huge numbers and being displaced in a region that’s already destabilized, not a situation where a highly objectionable dictator is using his power to ensure stability. So even if Bush had made the humanitarian argument from the beginning, instead of ex post facto after the other rationales fell apart, Iraq was an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” situation. Syria is already broken.


But for all the fears of repeating Bush’s mistakes, Obama is taking the country to war in Syria from an arguably weaker position than Bush did with Iraq 10 years ago.

On public opinion alone, they are worlds apart (and this is a democracy, after all, so such things should matter). “Do you think that the United States should or should not take military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?” a Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll asked two days before the bombing began in 2003. A clear majority, 65 percent, said yes, while just 30 percent said no.

Compare that to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out this morning that found that 50 percent of Americans oppose military intervention in Syria, compared with 42 percent who support it. When asked if the U.S. should prioritize removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, just 16 percent of respondents said yes. …

And while Bush’s “coalition of the willing” was a joke, at least he had the United Kingdom. Obama lost London yesterday when Parliament voted to oppose the war effort.


First, there’s no clear objective. At least in Iraq, we knew what our initial goal was: overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime. This time, our government is disavowing any such concrete purpose. We’re instead going to be “punishing” Bashar al-Assad’s regime or “sending a message” to it. It’s the armed forces as Western Union. How we will know when the regime has been punished enough, or the message made unmistakable, is anyone’s guess.

Second, the national-security rationale for intervention is weaker in Syria. In Iraq, of course, the national-security claims turned out to be vastly overstated; the regime didn’t have the nuclear capacities that Western intelligence agencies suggested. This time, though, not much of a national-security argument is even being made. It has been pointed out that the Syrian regime is an ally of Iran, but that’s hardly a reason for an intervention that is not designed to replace the regime with one friendlier to us. President Barack Obama has tried claiming that Syria’s chemical weapons could be turned against us, but it’s not clear he has even persuaded himself to worry about that.


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