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Syria: The Cost Of Squandering Credibility

Reader Bernie points out that this exchange from yesterday’s hearing (via WFB) may explain much of the opposition among the American people. From the transcript of a back-and-forth between Gen. Martin Dempsey and Sen. Bob Corker:

DEMPSEY: The answer to whether I support additional support for the moderate opposition is yes.

CORKER: And this authorization will support those activities in addition to responding to the weapons of mass destruction.

DEMPSEY: I don’t know how the resolution will evolve, but I support –

CORKER: What you’re seeking. What is it you’re seeking?

DEMPSEY: I can’t answer that, what we’re seeking.

Mmm-hmm. Gen. Dempsey deferred to Sec. of State Kerry in that moment, but how is it that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff does not know what the President is seeking? Was it the case that Dempsey misspoke, or didn’t quite perceive the question? Or was it the case that he inadvertently told the truth, in a Kinsley gaffe sort of way?

The fact that it’s even a question is testimony to the distrust so many Americans have of our government on the subject of war.

Thomas Friedman writes today to say he’s against lobbing Tomahawks at Damascus, but he strongly believes that the US has to do something in response to Assad’s supposed chemical weapons attack. Excerpt:

 If there is no global response to this breaching of a universal taboo on using poison gas, the world will be a much more dangerous place. And only America can spearhead a credible response: Russia and China have rendered the United Nations Security Council meaningless; Europe is a military museum; the Arab League is worthless; all others are spectators. We are out front — alone. We may not want to be, but here we are. So we must lead.

Says who? If only America has the ability to create a credible response, in what sense is this a “global response”? And if it is only an American response — that is, if we are the only people on the globe who can mount a response that Thomas Friedman finds credible — isn’t the world already a “much more dangerous place”?

Was the world a “much more dangerous place” when there was no response, American or otherwise, to Saddam’s gassing the Kurds?

See, I think what we’re seeing now is a gale of blowback to the Iraq debacle. Three out of four Americans supported that war, believing what the US Government and opinion leaders like Friedman said about Iraq and the threat it posed, as well as the relatively low cost and ease of the war. None of it was true. You don’t have to believe that the US Government and its cheerleaders (of which I was one at the time) deliberately tried to deceive the public; I think for the most part, they (we) deceived ourselves. Nevertheless, the cost of that deception was astronomical in terms of blood and treasure, and we scarcely accomplished our goal of a free, democratic, reliable Iraq (to say nothing of a stable Afghanistan, which is going to revert to Taliban misrule as soon as the last American soldiers depart).

And now that the American people are being asked yet again to support a military intervention in the Mideast in the name of international stability, a fight against WMDs, and in the name of punishing a vile dictator, is it any wonder that they don’t believe Washington? Is it any wonder that they do not believe that our leaders are telling the truth — whether those leaders are outright liars or merely gullible — when they say that they understand the nature of the Syrian opposition forces, given how badly we misread the Iraq situation? Is it any wonder that they do not believe our leaders are telling the truth when they say they will only seek a strictly limited military response?

This is what happens when the government and, more broadly, the Establishment (which includes leading elements of the media), lose credibility. This is what happens when you squander the trust of the American people, and grind down the US military in a decade-long war built on deception and self-deception. People don’t trust you, and they are right not to trust you. Besides, the military we will take to war in Syria — and please don’t be under the illusion that this will be a limited war — is not the military we took to war in Iraq. American cannot be the global policeman that Tom Friedman wants us to be because the Bush administration, backed by most some Congressional Democrats at the time, broke the military that we had in this waste of a war.

Everything Tom Friedman and Martin Dempsey and John Kerry and John McCain say may be the gospel truth. But I don’t believe them. It is dangerous to believe them. It has been dangerous to believe Washington in such matters since the Gulf of Tonkin, at least, but some of us are very, very late to have arrived at that conclusion.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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