Standing up to the wrong bully
For several years, I have argued with my college age students about the real causes of our prolonged involvement in Iraq. We have discussed the term “hubris” ad naseum. Weapons of mass destruction, deception, oil, mission accomplished, and salesmanship have also entered into the dialogue. One example that I have used to make my point to them is citing the film “Steel Magnolias”, and Sally Fields reaction on the death of her daughter, played by Julia Roberts.
In a famous scene shot at the cemetery where her daughter had just been interred, Sally Fields, sobbing, keeps repeating “Why..Why..Why. I am so angry, I am just so angry, I just want to punch someone”, says Sally Fields. At that point, Olympia Dukakis grabs Shirley MacLaine, the character who portrays Ouisa Boudreaux , a curmudgeonly older lady for whom everyone has contempt at one point or another, and says “Here, hit Ouisa!” At that point Sally Fields says, “Hit Quisa?” and her sobbing changes to gales of laughter, and she is surrounded by her beauty parlor friends who laugh with her at the sheer ridiculousness of the suggestion.
My point is that in 2003, George Bush made the choice to hit Quisa. He couldn’t find Osama Bin Laden, and he wanted to punch someone, so he made the case against the usual suspect, nasty mustachioed dictator Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11, but was nonetheless made responsible in the eyes of the American public by an incessant sales job that he possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that he was somehow behind 9/11, neither of which assertion was true. Ten years later, after billions of our tax dollars were spent to make the middle east safer for democracy, it is deja vu all over again, and we are no further ahead of the ethnic and religious and tribal conflicts that plague the area than we were ten years ago. But we sure hit Ouisa, and we did so with shock and awe. And it was all for naught.
Now, our peace loving President is making the case for war again, and blaming a new Bogeyman, Syrian President Bashir Assad. He is finally choosing to stand up and fight the bully. The problem is, number one, its the wrong bully. Assad is Ouisa in wolf’s clothing. The real bully is the Soviet Union whose intransigence and support of this Syrian sheep
has brought the world to the edge of a much broader conflict, and the charge is being led by the President who is so fed up with all the people who have been bullying him, including the right wingers in the Republican Congress, that he has chosen to stand and fight, and says he won’t back down. Problem two, Congress is a bully, but if you think by browbeating its members into submission, and shaming them for inaction is going to change their vote in the face of enormous public opposition to another war, you must have been born at night, and last night at that.
Choosing when to act, and who to blame, and who to stand up to is a critical test of any leader. Drawing red lines in the sand, politically and diplomatically is a risky business. Red lines drawn in the sand tend to shift, and lines drawn on political battlements have ways of morphing and moving as well. President Obama, by choosing the current path, is risking his entire Presidency in a reckless way that doesn’t have to happen. There are diplomatic alternatives that have yet to be tried.
We understand your frustration Mr. President. We understand you are tired of the constant “sniping” by Congress. We understand and share your revulsion at the sight of children gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth. It was worse than Sandy Hook elementary, and although you have tried, you haven’t been able to change the laws that would prevent another Sandy Hook either. We understand why you want to “Hit Ouisa”. But, to choose Syria as your Rubicon River. ..to throw down the gauntlet and say, the “Die is cast” on this issue, is the wrong choice, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons. And it will not end well, Mr. President. Finding an alternative is yet preferable to taking the action you have proposed. Eating crow at the White House is a better choice than escalating a conflict that will go much father than the Rubicon river, once you cross that barrier.
Fortunately, Mr. Obama seems to be the recipient of a last minute Hail Mary pass from
the Russians. He should take the ball, run into the end zone and spike it. Period.