That press conference was a disaster. Not for Barack Obama. He did fine. It was a disaster for the press, for America, for the world. The media are going to help push us back into war.
That was a disgraceful question from CNN’s Jim Acosta about why can’t we take out “these bastards.” Who is he, William Randolph Hearst? And then the next questioner, Ron Allen of NBC, asked Obama if he “understand(s) this enemy well enough to protect the homeland.” It was about the third or fourth question along those lines.
OK. Obama’s Syria policy has been a failure. Given. Obama’s ISIS strategy has been a half-measure. Let’s grant that too. Maybe a quarter-measure. Actually, we have, with the Iraqi Army and the Kurds and to some extent the Syrian rebels, had some successes. Here’s a decent summary. But no, we obviously have not contained ISIS, as Obama said last Thursday in a comment for which he is very fairly being criticized.
But what is success? No one knows. No one, no one, has a plan for success, because there isn’t one. Or maybe there is one, but it involves massive commitments from the gulf states and Turkey of the sort that they’re very unlikely to make. Or it involves us openly allying with Putin and Assad, which is a) distasteful in the extreme and b) bound to result in hideous unforeseen consequences. In other words, things that aren’t likely to happen until the situation gets much, much worse, or things that we should really think carefully about entering into.
So there isn’t a solution. Unless you think a ground war is a solution. Ultimately, it might have to come to that, I suppose. But if it is to come to that, we’re going to have to be a very different country, a more mature and decent country, than we currently are. We’re going to have to have a draft, so that all this doesn’t fall on the same 1 percent of the population that’s already suffering and committing suicides in intolerable numbers; and we’re going to have to convert some portion of the economy to war footing. Because it’ll be a real war that can’t be won by having people going out and doing more shopping, as they urged us to do after 9/11. It’s going to be brutal. And not for the three or four years it might take to vanquish ISIS, but for 20 or so, because as we’re still learning in Iraq, who do these idiot critics think is going to come in and run Syria, some latter-day incarnation of Vaclav Havel?
And if you’re being remotely honest, you know all this. These Republicans are so completely full of shit that it’s hard to read and watch. Here’s a Mitt Romney tweet from shortly after the press conference ended: “Tired of Obama’s dissembling. No one calling for massive troop intervention. Instead calling for winning strategy to replace current failure.” Completely dishonest nonsense, and I guess here would be a good time to point out that Bill Kristol has called for 50,000 troops to fight ISIS just yesterday. Yeah, I know it was just a tweet. But this is the trick, even when they’re not limited to a tweet. Just use vague language about winning strategies and being strong not weak without saying what it means.
If forced to be specific, they might say, let’s step up the air war. OK then, let’s step up the air war. But let’s be aware of what it might be inviting. So Obama follows the Republicans’ advice, steps up the air war, and then someday in the near future we have our own Paris. What would they say then? Would they have his back, because, hey, buddy, you took our advice, you tried, now let’s stand together? Please. There would be instant hearings and perhaps even impeachment.
And then there’s the stupid reactionary posture of the presidential candidates who have suggested establishing a religious (i.e. non-Muslim) test for entry into the country, and the governors who have already announced that they won’t be accepting Syrian refugees. In smacking down these people at the press conference, Obama was at his best. “The people fleeing Syria,” he said, “are the most harmed by terrorism.” Duh. To use Paris as an excuse to refuse these people help makes any decent American ashamed.
That’s the Republicans. And the media, with questions like Acosta’s and Allen’s, enable them. The underlying premises of most media coverage of how Obama handles this situation going forward will be simple: hawkish good, dovish bad. That’s how it always goes once this kind of fever takes hold.
Have we learned nothing? Nothing from all the dead bodies shipped back home, and the ones buried over there? Nothing from the many trillions of dollars that we will be spending until 2060 or so to care for the veterans of these wars? Nothing from the carnage and mayhem that our Iraq invasion helped loose upon the world? Nothing from those bellicose atmospherics in Washington in those post-9/11 days, when people who knew better were slinging around phrases like “abject pacifists” to describe the people who were warning that war isn’t easy and whom time has obviously proven correct?
The way this country’s political establishment, including the agenda-setting media, behaved in those days was a disgrace. What’s happening now is in part a consequence of our belligerent immaturity then. There are no good answers here. One feels a certain sympathy for Obama being in this impossible situation; on the other hand he did ask for it, he is the president, and he has to come up with something. Since there are no good choices, he’ll probably make a mistake. But for God’s sake, at least let it be a different mistake than the one we made in 2003.