Thursday, August 29, 2013

The war narrative

Ostensibly, an attack in Syria is still under consideration, not a done deal.  The UK is wavering, the UN isn't convinced, and Obama himself hasn't come out in support of military action.

But how do you stop this train once it's already rolling?  We're already in the build-to-war narrative, one that Americans know very well; recent history tells us there's only way this story ends. 

Conor Friedersdorf wrote a wonderful piece yesterday about how all the articles discussing "mounting pressure on Obama to intervene" are indulging in a bizarre conceit, focusing on the growing consensus in a tiny cabal of DC-based foreign policy gurus, while ignoring the consensus against war among virtually everyone else.  I do hope Obama has the good sense to ignore these people, although I can't know for sure. But what worries me is that, in order to start a war, they don't have to make a case for bombing Syria.  They just have to keep talking about it.  

Because as long as the prospect of war is in the headlines, any slowdown in the process seems like a break, an intermission, a hiatus, but not the conclusion of the matter.  We found evidence of Syrian wrongdoing; that's Act One.  We're in Act Two now, marshaling the troops.  

My fear is that we don't know how to avoid having an Act Three.  

It wouldn't feel right, would it?  It wouldn't feel right if Obama just came out tomorrow and said "After weighing the evidence, we've decided to avoid doing anything," and that was that.  No, something has to happen, because that's how these things work.

It way I expect the foreign policy world to treat this situation reminds me of one of those fake choices that sometimes show up in video games:

It's August 29. Do you want to bomb Syria?  >>>  Yes/NO

Okay.  It's August 30.  Do you want to bomb Syria?  >>>  Yes/NO

Okay.  It's August 31.  Do you want to bomb Syria?  >>>  Yes/NO

Okay.  It's September 1.  Do you want to bomb Syria?  >>>  YES/No

It's not that the conclusion to the narrative is written in stone; certainly even DC's prognosticators and pontificators disagree about how strikes in the Middle East would play out.  The danger isn't any consensus over the buildup's likely result, but the sentiment that the buildup needs to be to something.  The US needs to take action, or Assad needs to take action, or something dramatic needs to occur.  But if nothing happens, and nothing changes, and the civil war in Syria proceeds apace, Obama is going to be badgered to act every day until he does.  Because no one likes a story without an ending.

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