Many have blamed American militarism on George W. Bush. Whether cast as cowboy, crusader, or dupe of the Angler, the ex-president was a convenient scapegoat. By 2008, voters felt comforted that neither the technocrat Obama nor the veteran McCain would recapitulate the tragedy of Iraq. And yet here we are, five years later, with both men uniting behind another “intervention.”
With the Bush bogeyman gone, the new war drive raises deep questions about the US political system. The Syria proposal is so at odds with what the American people want, what the world appears to want, and what even many of its intended beneficiaries want, that the question arises: what does the Administration know that we don’t? What gives them confidence that the US can accomplish its “three missions” in Syria? Andrew Bacevich puts the question plainly:
If you think back to 1980, and just sort of tick off the number of military enterprises that we have been engaged in that part of the world, large and small, you know, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia — and on and on, and ask yourself, ‘What have we got done? What have we achieved? Is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more democratic? Are we enhancing America’s standing in the eyes of the people of the Islamic world?’ ‘The answers are, ‘No, no, and no.’ So why, Mr. President, do you think that initiating yet another war in this protracted enterprise is going to produce a different outcome?
The other “big story” of the summer helps explain the hubris. If you had access to an intelligence apparatus as pervasive and expert as NSA/DIA/CIA/NGA et al., would you think you were missing anything? The lesson of history is that conflict is unpredictable, and can quickly spin out of control. But the dream of mass surveillance is mastery and control. Precrime, prewar, all manner of incipient evils: with enough anticipatory knowledge all can eventually be modulated away and conquered.