Pete Wehner is worried that attacking Syria might undermine the cause of hawkish foreign policy here at home:
To put it another way: Those who favor an active role by America in the world–hawks who have spent their lives rightly resisting the “America Come Home” siren call–need to be wise in their counsel. Because if the next military engagement isn’t well thought out, well executed, and doesn’t lead to a relatively swift and decent outcome, the blowback could be intense. Syria could do to America what George McGovern never could [bold mine-DL].
This is a curious way to think about the issue. There was at least one other rather significant military intervention in the last decade that wasn’t “well-thought out” or “well-executed,” and its outcome was neither decent nor swift. That intervention did indeed provoke a major political backlash against the more aggressive foreign policy that the war’s supporters embraced, it cost the president’s party control of Congress and the White House, and it is part of the reason why 60-70% of the public opposes attacking Syria. This was the Iraq war, which Wehner remarkably manages to avoid mentioning in a post that runs over 1,300 words. Iraq war supporters can barely bring themselves to acknowledge that the war went badly, and they remain quite oblivious to the fact that it wrecked the public’s confidence in the sort of aggressive foreign policy that those supporters continue to promote.
The proposed attack on Syria is deeply unpopular for many reasons that have nothing to do with the Iraq war, but the popular rejection of a new war with Syria stems in no small part from the Iraq debacle. That makes Wehner’s concern for the fortunes of “internationalism” here strange, since the sort of “internationalism” he and his colleagues promote remains unchanged since they eagerly supported the greatest foreign policy blunder in a generation. Wehner misses that what he calls “internationalism” is in disrepute mostly because of what Republicans have done, or rather failed to do, in the last five years. If there is an attack on Syria, the bad reputation of so-called “internationalism” will get worse and it will harden the public’s opposition to future military interventions, but the worst of the damage happened years ago thanks to a war that many Republican hawks refuse to repudiate.