Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Striking Syria: "Chicago Way"

While Father Anonymous was purging a brutal stomach virus, it appears that the Bush Administration decided -- in the last few months of its existence -- to get serious in the Middle East. Depending upon your definition of "serious." 

American forces are now empowered to launch cross-border strikes (into Syria, so far, but also potentially into Iran, or someday Pakistan; oh, and we might add Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, the Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) without direct authorization from the President.  And, needless to say, without any diplomatic how-do-you-do.

In a TNR piece, Eli Lake quotes an unnmaed intelligence official as calling this new approach "the Chicago Way," in reference to Sean Connery's Untouchables lecture to Kevin Costner:  "You want to get Capone?  Here's how you get him.  He pulls a knife, you pull a gun.  He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.  That's the Chicago way."

In general, we support this idea.  We're all for getting Capone.  But let's also admit up front that this will send a lot of people to the morgue, and that it may cause at least as many problems as it solves.  The American experience, since 1946 or thereabouts, has been that military solutions always do.

Lake is clear about why the Administration has made a late-in-life change:  because it wants some military victories, and doesn't care about the political consequences.  

While it would be churlish to impute to the President any direct partisan motive here, there may be some partisan result:  military victories might make it easier for McCain to get elected, and a massive diplomatic mess makes it harder for Obama to govern.  (But of course, harder for McCain as well, which is further evidence either of how much the President and his advisors dislike McCain, or that they are too stupid even to be sneaky).

The McCain team has jumped on the strikes with glee, claiming that they never would have happened in an Obama presidency, because Obama has a stated preference for diplomacy, and implying that they are one more reason to support a macho Republican over an arugula-smoothie-slurping Harvard elitist.

But not so fast. Because what the Administration has just done is what Obama has specifically said that he would do, albeit in Pakistan, and McCain has denounced as naive.  That is, tick off other countries by ignoring their sovereignty, and announce that you'll do it, which was what McCain has really objected to.  So -- has the President taken some advice from Obama, or are they both just equally naive?

Lake's article ends with an extended series of questions, boiling down to "If Obama wins, will he keep this new policy in place?"  He never asks the same question about McCain, which is odd.  Nor does he ask the more important one:  Can a nation struggling to fight two regional wars seriously improve its tactical position by threatening to invade every country in the region?

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