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Bill Otis’ case for attacking Syria

To paraphrase the old joke that Steve Hayward invoked the other day, some of my friends are for attacking Syria; most of friends are against it; and I stand with some of my friends.

Bill Otis, a great friend, is for attacking Syria. He explains:

I started off being in favor of hitting Syria, and am still there, but have great reservations, set out by, among others, Charles Krauthammer and Peggy Noonan.

My basic take, the one that still persuades me to back the strike, is darker than yours and others who back it. I look at the use of chemical weapons as the most flagrant announcement yet that what’s actually going on is the world’s entry into the Second Dark Ages. That’s the real story with the thinking that now predominates in the Arab world, whether it purports to be Sunni or Shiite or secular or what have you.

The appalling truth of it is that these people have Seventh Century morals but Twentieth Century weapons. The ideas of tolerance, forbearance, democracy, individual freedom and the whole boatload of Western values simply do not exist in that part of the world (except for Israel).

What it has to remind you of at this point (and this is scarcely an original thought) is the rise of Hitler, and England and France’s paralysis in the face of it, leading to the worst catastrophe for the human race — in terms of mass death, destruction and misery — since the beginning of civilization.

One thing that, curiously to me, seems to have been missing from the debate so far is the explicit invocation of American Exceptionalism (although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Obama invoke it tomorrow night). Generally, I’m of the view, along with other conservatives, that we ought to use force only to directly advance American interests in the world, and not to protect “humanitarian values” or whatever it’s called now. But, if I’m right that the use of chemical weapons is the Second Dark Ages showing itself, this is different. It is now up to America to do what England failed to do in the late 1930′s; there is simply no other nation that can or will step up. Does any serious person think the use of these weapons, or worse, is a one-time-only affair?

The great danger, of course — the one Krauthammer, Noonan and other conservatives see — is that we’ll botch it and thus look even weaker and more feckless than we do now. This has to be taken seriously. Obama is no more competent to handle this, indeed he’s very likely less competent, than Jimmy Carter was in attempting to rescue the embassy hostages. When you’ve spent your entire life looking on the United States as a bullying, greedy, menacing influence in the world, it’s hard to be the guiding hand in a resolute action whose ultimate anchor is the exact opposite point of view.

The problem is: What’s the alternative? As many supporters of a strike note, if we can’t act here, especially after the “red line” bluster, what is Iran going to think are the realistic chances we’re actually going to stop them from getting The Bomb? Indeed, what will any of these barbarians think?

Answer: They’ll think it’s party time. Of course, Iran is probably already thinking that, and why not? But if we fail to act against its proxy Assad, I see no way, short of an Israeli strike of unknown effectiveness, that Iran will be deterred from getting, and then using, The Bomb.

This is where Obama’s strategy of weakness and decline has brought us. But it’s where we are (or, as you once put it, we have to go to war with the President we have).

The nightmare (and a distinct possibility) is that Obama will use far too little force, doing nothing to degrade Assad’s power and thus only incentivizing him to use more of it, only worse (chemical weapons prominently included). In that case, Obama will be confronted with (a) a humiliating defeat that even the press won’t be able (or in this instance, willing) to hide; or (b) the ever-famous “wider war,” which the public is not going to support until it reaches our shores (again). But there is a chance that Obama will use enough force to keep Assad from winning (indeed, taking out Assad himself would send a welcome message to whoever is running the show in Iran now).

It seems to me that that is the chance we must take.

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