John McCain has responded to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government by…blaming the president of the United States:
“President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria,” the Arizona senator said in a statement. “Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction [bold mine-DL], Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent men, women and children, this time in Douma.”
McCain unwittingly revealed the absurdity of the hawkish interventionist position on Syria with these comments. First, he faults Trump for “signaling” a withdrawal from Syria, but there has been no decision to withdraw and there is no timetable for when it might happen. Merely suggesting that it could happen is supposedly enough to sway the actions of foreign governments, but there is no evidence that Trump’s comments had anything to do with the attack in question. It is post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacious reasoning that hawks have employed in the Syria debate for years.
McCain also ignores that the Syrian government and its allies have their own reasons for doing things. If Trump had not made his unscripted remarks about withdrawal last week, does anyone really think that the Syrian government would have behaved significantly differently than it did? If McCain believes that, he is ascribing near-magical powers to presidential rhetoric with a degree of conviction that would embarrass the most credulous believers in superstitions. Other states act according to their own interests as they perceive them, and it is a measure of our national narcissism and self-importance that our political leaders routinely assume that every foreign state’s action is somehow our fault or our responsibility to “fix.” Most things around the world are entirely beyond our government’s control, and it is important that we understand that there are some things that the U.S. can’t and shouldn’t try to “fix.”
The warmongering Arizona senator always denies U.S. responsibility for our government’s own crimes and blunders, and like many other hawks he derides most criticisms of U.S. foreign policy as “blaming America first.” But here McCain does something far more ridiculous by effectively blaming the U.S. government for the crimes of states that it opposes because of its supposed “inaction.” As far as McCain et al. are concerned, U.S. actions are never responsible for provoking negative reactions or causing blowback, but U.S. inaction can be blamed for whatever terrible things a foreign government happens to do in its own territory. McCain’s understanding of culpability is completely upside down: he always lets the U.S. off the hook for its worst behavior while imputing the worst behavior of our enemies to our government’s “failure” to “stop” it. The U.S. is never called to account for what it does abroad, but McCain is the first to vilify the government when it “fails” to start or join the war McCain supports. This sort of thinking was pernicious and wrong when it was used against the previous president, and it is just as pernicious and wrong today. It is one of the many reasons why our foreign policy debates are so warped and biased in favor of destructive action.