By Robert L. Capehert
WITH debate heating up on Capital Hill, congressional representatives prepare to vote on whether to authorize Pres. Barack Obama to strike Syrian regime targets in a “shot across the bow,” a response to Bashar el-Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own citizens within a war-torn country.
From the beginning, Republicans — and a slew of conservatives, libertarians — have strongly opposed the President’s threat to strike Syria. Political winds churn. Many on the left and elsewhere, now accuse Republicans of a type of bait-and-switch.
And a word appears more routinely. Hypocrisy.
The argument goes something like this: Conservatives, Republicans in particular, supported then Pres. George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, creating a vacuum of power. The result instigated a disaster, ensnaring the United States in a bloodbath of sectarian violence.
Worse, opine the critics, the original vera causa of the Iraq War — weapons of mass destruction — turned out untrue.
And now that a Democrat occupies the White House, these same critics joust; Republicans are now obstructionist, or worse, dangerously isolationist — balking at Pres. Obama’s moral imperative that the United States must answer the violation of international prohibitions against the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
The argument sounds plausible. In which case, the idea from many is war is good when a Republican occupies the White House, and war is bad when a Democrat lounges in the Oval Office chair.
Simple, clear, and concise — right?
Not so fast. Like much flat-earth thinking, the argument fails to take account of life’s divergent realities.
Are Republicans being hypocritical — or, have Republicans learned after 10 years of fruitless intervention and “democracy projects,” grown more “realist” in their understanding of the scope and limitations of American military power?
A man who tells a friend pornography is unhealthy, then returns home and straightaway peers at pornographic images is a hypocrite. But a man who once looked at pornography, suffered ill effects from it, and now refrains from it, and advises a friend not to view pornography, is not a hypocrite.
Might it be more accurate to say the man in question sincerely underwent an accumulation of wisdom and personal growth — of an increase in moral rectitude?
The same could be said of a father who once got a DUI when young and foolish, but now advises his young son never to drink and drive as a mature man.
The simple accusation of the father being a “hypocrite” does not reflect human experience and knowledge — and the responsibility of grown man to raise a young son — to instruct and teach his son about basic ideas of virtuous and immoral conduct.
And so, we come to Syria. Most mainstream conservatives opposed to Pres. Obama’s proposed attack on Syria reflected publicly about the imprudence of the Iraq War before presidential candidate Barack Obama won election.
Likewise, those neo-conservatives who championed America’s intervention in Iraq following the 9/11 terrorist attacks are also behind Pres. Obama’s justification for attacking Syria.
William Kristol of The Weekly Standard — passionately in favour of removing Saddam before George W. Bush ran for President — as well as a small cadre of National Review editors, eagerly supported then Pres. George W. Bush in Iraq, and recently wrote an editorial in support of Pres. Obama’s desire for action against the Syrian regime.
Still others, like Fox News contributor and fellow neo-con, Charles Krauthammer, (who supported the Iraq War, and championed it’s certain success), oppose Pres. Obama on Syria only because of the limp-wrested plan of attack the Obama administration has in mind — which these neo-cons argue, will change nothing on the ground.
And still more neo-conservatives have expressed the attitude that Pres. Obama’s recent “get tough” posture with Bashar el-Assad couldn’t have happened sooner, screaming the refrain, “It’s about damn time.”
Meanwhile, those conservatives and libertarians who were either skeptical or opposed to Pres. George W. Bush’s policy toward Saddam’s Iraq in the wake of September 11, are consistently against intervention in Syria in 2013.
And those conservatives of various stripes who have changed their mind in the arena of foreign policy — and they are many — have done so based upon a rekindling of classical liberal ideas about foreign policy, and because of Iraq’s realities, not in negation of them.
Part of the intellectual weight of conservatism/libertarianism is a sturdy focus on the history of human conduct; a review, as it were, of historical events and it’s personalities, going back hundreds of years.
Classical liberal opposition to a planned strike against Syria by many conservatives is consumed with trying to learn the right lessons — from successes and failures — of the Bush era.
And many are channeling Pres. Ronald Reagan’s restrained foreign policy instead of George W. Bush’s more Wilsonian vision. In which case, there are ideological underpinnings to conservative change-of-hearts on the Syrian situation, rather than political expediency.
Of course, there are conservatives and libertarians who will oppose Pres. Obama on anything — because the President is a leftist ideologue, and also, because these same opponents of the President see him as completely unfit for high office.
While such criticism I think is true, such a polemic against the raptor-armed Commander in Chief is unfortunate — as it is not intellectually defensible despite it’s emotional intensity and ability to conjure up opposition.
But let us ruminate. A beautiful thing to keep in mind about all diverse forms of classical liberalism is how multifarious its philosophical heft is — that various differences of opinions exist — under the classical liberal canopy. Moreover, those differences are rooted in historical and philosophical reflection — typically removed from the sophistic grumblings of a rancorous genus.
And so, our cause and posture is substantive, never superficial — or shouldn’t be — and we ought to make our case from the depths of our rich ideological heritage.
And we must admit that minds should change according to the lessons life teaches. It is the brainless jackass who wanders through life hobbled by the idea that a divine beauty exists thinking one would do — or believe — the same things at 20 years of age, as one would at 30 years of age.
That is nonsense.
The Iraq War, sadly, happened as it did. Many conservatives and libertarians supported it, and many did not.
The Afghanistan war happened, too — as it did.
All history happens a certain way, in a marked context. As students of life — where no choice exists not to be one if one draws breathe — that ought to teach us something.
And if it does not — we are all fools.