Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A Seminar on Mass Murder

The Syria hearing brings the Senate into sharper focus. After six years of aimless dysfunction and deadlock about the lives of Americans, members of both parties are alert and attentive while debating death, past and future, in a nation of 20-some million people half a world away.

Suddenly gone from discussion are previously overriding issues of government power and spending in favor of such geopolitical questions as US credibility and moral authority in the world. Suddenly front and center again are arguments about when and how to employ the military might that George W. Bush’s Neo-Cons used to justify invading Iraq and other policing of the Middle East.

The most cogent doubts come, not from Rand Paul arguing that everything will go wrong after a Syrian strike or Marco Rubio insisting the President has muffed the timetable, but from new Democratic Senators like Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tom Udall of New Mexico pressing John Kerry on exactly how a few days of delivering death by air will advance the cause of freeing a nation from a murderous despot on the ground.

It doesn’t demean Kerry’s long and honorable public service to see his strong advocacy of striking Syria now overlaid by ghost figures of the 27-year-old Vietnam veteran who came back in 1971 to denounce the politicians who sent him there as “war criminals” and the mature candidate whose war bravery was swift-boated by Karl Rove in 2004 to reelect a President who had evaded combat service.

In days to come, Congress will find a way to avoid doing what might hurt the nation most of all, undercutting and humiliating a President who has committed himself to attacking Assad, but grinding out that painful and dangerous decision will leaden the hearts of Americans who can remember a time of national choices that did not range from very bad to worse.

We are in a lose-lose situation, and holding seminars on the relative obscenity of mass murders won’t change that.

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