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It’s Not War, So Stop Saying That

William Rivers Pitt examines the doublespeak coming out of Washington on Syria.

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now – with somebody – and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.

– Hunter S. Thompson

John Boehner and Eric Cantor think attacking Syria is a great idea, and have encouraged all congressional Republicans to support President Obama in the upcoming vote to authorize such an action, though they don’t intend to actually whip votes or anything. John McCain was for attacking Syria, but against it, yet for it, but refused to vote for it unless his amendment making the resolution more fulsomely war-ish was added to the final text. Sheldon Adelson, the right-wing billionaire who spent $70 million trying to defeat Obama in the 2012 election, is firmly in the president’s corner when it comes to saving Syrian civilians by dropping bombs on them.

Boehner, Cantor, Adelson and Obama: if someone showed you a picture of them playing golf together, you’d think it was Photoshopped, because it’s just too deranged to be real. But there they are, all four of them, walking shoulder to shoulder towards the precipice of another Middle East conflict, with McCain as usual scurrying to keep up.

Secretary of State John Kerry made it abundantly clear during a congressional hearing on Tuesday that he is ready to ask someone to be the first to die for a mistake, and did so with a barrage of gibberish so vast that it bent the light in the hearing room.

He insisted with table-pounding vehemence that the president is not asking America to go to war by asking America to flip missiles and bombs into Syria, because it totally won’t seem like war to us. No one bothered to ask what it will seem like to the people on the receiving end of our non-war armaments. It won’t be like war, though, so stop saying that.

He declared that there will be “no boots on the ground” after saying it might be necessary, all the while not bothering to mention that “boots” are almost certainly already on the ground over there, in the form of Special Operations soldiers who are preparing the ground for whatever attack may come.

He, as well as any number of Obama’s to-the-knife defenders, filled the air with stentorian declarations that America will not be involving itself in the Syrian civil war by raining bombs down on one side of the Syrian civil war while contemplating allowing the Pentagon to step up assistance to the other side of the Syrian civil war, because that’s totally not getting involved in the Syrian civil war, so stop saying that.

Now, I’m no von Clausewitz, but it seems to me that the military theory here is pretty straightforwardly binary: 0 = no bombs = not involved, 1 = bombs = involved; 0 = no arming the rebels = not involved, 1 = arming the rebels = involved. Trying to argue otherwise amounts to the largest gob of doublespeaking half-assery anyone has heard since White House spokesman Ari Fleischer angrily announced ten years ago that those who wanted to see evidence of WMD in Iraq should go find it themselves…and yes, that actually happened.

As for arming those rebels, well, we have a pretty detailed history of arming people like the Mujahidin in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, only to have them morph into the Taliban and al Qaeda, and hasn’t that paid some bloody dividends. Our newfound friends in Syria have a very similar pedigree, but it totally won’t be a problem, so stop saying that.

On Wednesday, Kerry’s appearance at a House hearing on the matter added depth and breadth to the gobldeygook from the day before. At one point, he informed his inquisitors that a number of Arab countries were more than willing to foot the bill for the whole shooting match. “In fact,” said Kerry, “some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we’ve done it previously in other places, they’ll carry that cost.” Of course, he went on to assure everyone that such a scenario is “not in the cards,” in the same way that “boots on the ground” are totally out of the question. He just said that stuff to say that stuff, so stop saying that…and, not for nothing, but doesn’t Kerry’s talk about Arab countries paying the frieght for the war that isn’t a war sound a whole hell of a lot like those guys ten years ago who told us the Iraq war would pay for itself?

But it was President Obama himself who deployed the line to beat all lines during this demented catastrophe of a rush to war. During a presser in Sweden on Wednesday morning, he actually said with his bare face hanging out for all to see that, “I didn’t set a red line, the world did,” regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Got that? Mr. Obama absolutely did not tell Chuck Todd on August 20, 2012 that, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.” And he totally didn’t box himself in with that comment to the point that his only recourse was to throw this hot potato at congress and hope they catch it, so stop saying that.

There is apparently something about trips to Europe that turn American presidents into blathering foot-in-mouth idiots. Our last president popped off a real brain-bender during a trip to Poland when he told some assembled reporters that America had, in fact, found WMD in Iraq. Now we have this. Maybe it’s the cabin pressure on Air Force One. Someone should probably look into that before the next president goes over and makes us all look like hopeless fools again.

Yet it would not be a modern American war if John McCain didn’t get his two sanguinary cents in. On Wednesday morning, McCain made it clear that, though he would love nothing more than to drop ordnance on Syria, the wording of the Senate resolution wasn’t appropriately bombastic. To secure his vote, he was allowed to add amendments declaring that it will be the policy of the United States to “change the momentum on the battlefield,” even though there can’t actually be a battlefield because this isn’t actually war. The resolution passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 10-7, with newly-minted Massachusetts senator Ed Markey voting “present,” which is absolutely a profile in courage, so stop saying that.

A huge majority of the American people is against attacking Syria. Battalions of military experts and advisers are terrified of the prospect…and more than a few veterans are seething at the idea of launching yet another war while a killer backlog of VA applications languishes unresolved to the terminal detriment of those who bore the brunt of our previous martial adventures. Nobody is able to adequately explain the point of the exercise without wading into a morass of historically laughable Hitler analogies that would make Mike Godwin weep with despair. But never fear, because Barack Obama, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, John McCain, Sheldon Adelson and the United States Congress are on the case, and next up comes the House vote, which shold be a doozy.

Remember, though: it’s not war, there are no boots, there is no battlefield, we are not trembling on the edge of unimaginably violent disaster, and everything’s going to be fine.

So stop saying that.

(h/t to Bob Boudelang, wherever you are)

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