It was bound to happen sooner or later. Charles Lane dredges up the very worst argument for supporting an attack on Syria: the need to demonstrate national unity and bipartisanship. Lane writes:
Today, the question before Congress is ostensibly narrow: whether to give President Obama a green light to use military force against the Assad regime in Syria to enforce the international norm against using chemical weapons.
As framed by historical circumstances, though, the issue is far more fateful: What’s left in the fund of national unity upon which the United States has drawn, time and again, to support its global role?
Apart from quoting Vandenberg’s “water’s edge” adage, Lane doesn’t have much evidence that bipartisan agreement on specific policies overseas is a common or even a desirable thing. In my lifetime, there has been one period when there was broad, bipartisan support for a president’s foreign policy decisions, and this was in the years immediately following 9/11. This was also the period when the arguments in favor of administration policy were at their most hysterical and administration decision-making was at its most reckless. At least when it comes to debating whether to start another war, political polarization and disagreement are things we should prize rather than lament. National unity in wartime can be valuable when the war is forced upon you, but when it leads to waging unnecessary wars or when it serves as an excuse for attacking other countries it can be and has been very harmful. Besides, if Lane takes this idea of a “fund of national unity” seriously, why would he want to expend any of it on a bad cause that will simply reinforce and deepen political divisions over foreign policy? Pushing military action through Congress over the opposition of most Americans will produce a backlash against interventionist policies because of the contempt shown for the public in the process.
An official newspaper, Al-Thawra, crowed that the mere fact that Obama felt obliged to seek support on the Hill constituted “the start of the historic American retreat.” Will Congress confirm or refute Al-Thawra’s analysis?
This is a useless question. The Syrian government is engaging in the sort of bluster and self-serving propaganda that all such regimes practice. We should ask ourselves why we care (or pretend to care) about how Syrian state propaganda characterizes a Congressional vote on military action. Most Americans understand that the U.S. isn’t “retreating” from anything if there is no attack on Syria. We should reject the idea that we have something to prove to a weak despotism on the other side of the world, and refuting Assad regime propaganda should be one the very least of our concerns.