Have you heard the one about McCain and the Syrian rebels?

I wasn’t watching the news all that closely yesterday, so, as sometimes happens with Twitter, I saw the jokes about John McCain sneaking into Syria to talk to the rebels before I knew he had gone. Here’s the first I saw:

Syrian rebels with McCain, probably: “I want to trust your judgment, but go over again why you thought she was qualified to be president.”

Later, someone brought my attention to this one from McCain pal Lindsey Graham:

Best wishes to @SenJohnMcCain in Syria today. If he doesn’t make it back calling dibs on his office.

Anyway, no doubt to Graham’s chagrin, McCain apparently made it back out of Syria OK (at least, that’s how I read this reference to Yemen). The White House has said today that yeah, they knew he was going, and no, they don’t have anything else to say about it, but look forward to hearing from the senator about his trip.

64 thoughts on “Have you heard the one about McCain and the Syrian rebels?

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    And Meghan McCain apparently only found out via Twitter.

    How come he isn’t Damascus John?

  2. Phillip

    This is the time, more than ever, for A) the media to do its job thoroughly and properly explaining the extent of what we’re really talking about in Syria when we casually bat about simple-sounding phrases like “no-fly zone” and the like, and B) for the American people to do their homework and pay attention to the info that is out there on this issue. I’ve read, seen, and heard a variety of informed debates already in print and on TV and radio, on the pros and cons of greater involvement in the Syrian mess; so in truth “A” is already happening.

    We can’t minimize our responsibility as individual American citizens for the foreign policy our nation pursues, powerless though we might think ourselves on that individual basis. I was reminded of this a few days ago in a recent Brad post, which somehow ended up back in that inevitable debate about “did Bush lie about Iraq,” “was getting into Iraq wrong or just executed imperfectly,” “are things better or worse because of our actions there,” etc. etc. I made a point to stay out of it on this occasion, but it struck me somehow (perhaps with the passage of time) that charging our leaders with lying to us or even just misleading us is kind of pointless and bails us out as citizens too much. The information is usually out there, though one won’t necessarily get it from Fox News or even other television headline-oriented news sources.

    This is a good example here. Let’s truly understand what is at stake, and that information is out there without prejudice as to pro-or-anti-intervention approaches.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, I rather think that “what’s at stake” is an easier question to answer than “what should we do?”

      What’s at stake is the great risk of either a dictator remaining in power for an indefinite period by killing a lot more of his people, or some al Qaeda types taking over — with all of the spillover potential, either way, in the region.

      What do to about it is a tougher question.

      From what I read this morning, the Brits and/or the French may repeat the Libya pattern, acting and asking us to help out. That was referred to in passing in an interesting piece about how much more hesitant hawkish liberals are this time around. Although I’m not sure the premise is accurate. Didn’t Hillary Clinton and others want to intervene last year?

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      And by the way, I don’t accept the premise, accepted as gospel among so many antiwar Democrats, that we went to Iraq because the press didn’t do its job and tell us all kinds of stuff that it should have known.

      That’s just not true. The Knight Ridder Washington Bureau had a distinctly antiwar flavor to its coverage at the time, for which it has been praised to the skies since then by those opposed to our involvement there.

      Which means that that point of view was out there. And that’s the way I saw it, by the way — as a point of view, rather than as “truth” as opposed to “falsehood.”

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        And please don’t take me to task again for saying “antiwar;” I just can’t think of a better, economical way to express the concept…

      2. Phillip

        Actually, I agree with you, which kind of amplifies my point that we the people (and leaders of both parties) bore the ultimate responsibility for Iraq, above and beyond the Bush/Cheney administration. Foreign policy is complex and thus particularly susceptible to demagoguery or over-simplification, especially where physical security and fear (a very new concept to Americans) is concerned (witness Obama’s recent highly thoughtful and nuanced speech on the need to ultimately reconsider how we characterize and carry out our anti-terrorism efforts, followed by the depressingly predictable fear-mongering from the now-fully-terrorized Lindsey Graham, reduced into a one-sentence soundbite).

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Is it “fear,” really? I’ve never thought that was the word.

          Back when I was in New York for the Republican National Convention in 2004, I stopped into a grocery to pick up some film (yeah, I was still using film then). I fell into conversation with a rather profane New Yorker (is that redundant?), who gave his carefully considered opinion, to the effect that if the f___ing terrorists knew s__t about America, they wouldn’t blow up the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. They’d blow up a f___ing supermarket in Nebraska.

          I thought he was right. I’d often had the same thought myself. If Americans had a realistic expectation that they might be blown up in the course of their daily lives in Nebraska or Ohio or SC, they might feel something like fear. But I don’t think most people think they’re in a target area.

          Responding to terrorism by, for instance, going into Afghanistan is simply a rational response, not some desperate act born of fear. If you’re the president — whether you’re Bush or Obama — you have a certain responsibility to prevent people from blowing up Americans. It’s your job. And most Americans want the president to do his job. I don’t think it’s because they are personally fearful.

          I don’t think the word is “fear.” A security issue is a security issue. If that’s your job.

          1. Phillip

            Not necessarily fear in the most direct sense, as in the average American thinking he/she could be a target of a terrorist attack. Fear more in the generalized sense that the “homeland” (which remained basically untouched throughout wars involving America) is no longer immune from feeling the wound of a terrorist attack. That’s why the New Yorker you met was mistaken, and Al-Qaeda/Bin-Laden was correct (in the strategic sense). Attacking fundamental symbols of America would cause a greater, deeper, and longer-lasting reaction among the populace, would strike more deeply at the psyche of the nation.

            It’s interesting you chose “going into Afghanistan” as the example of a “rational response” to terrorism, because that’s sort of where rationalism in foreign policy began and ended in my opinion in the post-9/11 era. And of course it was the logical and appropriate response to the immediate provocation and danger. But how small the tip of the iceberg that initial entry into Afghanistan some weeks after 9/11 turned out to be, in terms of the course of events our national security policy took post-9/11, including Iraq, the dreadful unsolvable situation with Gitmo, torture, the Patriot Act, rendition, and continuing dubious questions lingering over the use of drones, and of course the ongoing loss of many many American lives. Was it all a rational response?

            It’s taken 12 years for an American President to say some things that should seem unbelievably obvious to any adult who has any perspective at all on American and world history: “We must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America….Neither I nor any President can promise the total defeat of terror….America, we have faced down dangers far greater than al Qaeda.” None of this is inconsistent with the President’s “responsibility to keep people from blowing up Americans” as you put it.

            But for politicians like Sen. Graham, whose response to Obama’s speaking to us as adults was to say “this is the most tone-deaf president I ever could imagine, making such a speech at a time when our homeland is trying to be attacked literally every day” and then to go on to say that “I’ve never been more worried about our national security than I am today,” well, what emotion is he addressing himself to in the electorate, what emotion is he trying to gin up for god-knows whatever reasons in his mind, other than fear?

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            I haven’t had a chance to read the president’s 7,000-word speech, so I’m reserving judgment on it for now.

            But even when I’ve read it, I doubt I’ll agree with the left’s assessment that “talking to us as adults” means “We must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’.”

            I know you think that’s the adult view. I’m an adult, and I disagree. I tend to agree with something else the president said in the same speech, which is “the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban and their associated forces.”

            I suspect, but won’t know until I’ve had a chance to read the whole thing, that the president is doing what he’s done since before he was elected: Endeavoring to keep his base satisfied with the “treat terrorism as a series of separate crimes rather than as a war” line (what you would call the position “that should seem unbelievably obvious to any adult who has any perspective at all on American and world history”), while at the same time prosecuting the war on terror to the best of his ability.

            Which is why, days after his speech, we killed a Taliban deputy with a drone strike. (Causing me to write on Twitter: “Obama: Help me stop using drones, but not yet, oh Lord, not yet…”)

          3. Brad Warthen Post author

            But I agree that Lindsey Graham’s rhetoric that you quote was hyperbolic.

            I still don’t agree that the word is “fear.”

            Maybe it’s because I agree with so many of these policy decisions with which you and other sensible adults disagree, and yet have not at any time felt fear with regard to terrorism.

            Which would be projecting on my part. But I still don’t think “fear” is the word.

    3. Doug Ross

      Before we decide what is at stake we should agree on what our responsibility is. Is it the responsibility of the U.S. government to get entangled in the affairs of other countries? If so, by what authority? Is it in the name of defending America against some viable threat?

    1. Doug Ross

      No, no, Kathryn. You are forgetting the Domino Theory 2.0… Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran. Replace Communism with Islamic Terrorism and you can see how we are doomed.

      There always has to be a threat else what’s the point of funding defense contractors? Peace is expensive.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        But North Korea is a nuclear-powered domino….oh yeah, the contractors could get really hurt. Never mind.

      2. Brad Warthen

        Yeah, right. The Warsaw Pact was just a Potemkin village.

        And the Taliban was just a problem for the people of Afghanistan. So what if they gave al Qaeda a base (Arabic pun, there) of operations? How could that possibly harm us? Everybody’s got to live somewhere.

        And the turmoil in Chechnya can’t possibly affect us, right? Right?

        No man is an island. No country, either.

          1. Brad Warthen

            It’s very tough. As it has been throughout history.

            And here’s the thing: The fact that it’s tough doesn’t mean it can be ignored. In fact, it means the opposite.

      3. Silence

        Hey, careful where you point that thing, Doug. I’m one of those fatcat defense contractors!
        I’m fine with staying home, though. There’s always money in the banana stand.

  3. Bart

    When you get to my age, things seem to become very simple and not complicated. Syria does not present a threat to the US or our allies at this time. It is an internal struggle and the people of Syria should be left to solve their own problems. If it means all out war against Assad by Syrian rebels, then so be it but leave us out of it. Fight your own damn fight. Don’t supply arms or supplies at any level. If Assad has WMDs as I think he does and he uses them against his neighbors or our allies, then we should consider becoming involved but to what extent? Is it worth the blood of our soldiers to interfere with an internal civil war – not just no but hell no. Look at the aftermath of Iraq and Libia. The weapons stockpiles in Libia ended up in the hands of Al Quida, rebels, and other forces who are most certainly not friends of the US so why continue to supply arms to people who simply do not like us? If we interfere in Syria, the same results will be the likely outcome.

    I agree with Kathryn about North Korea. An immature megalomaniac is at the controls of the “red button” and to prove a point, he just may get pissed off one day and push the damn thing. What then? No, the situations in Syria vs. North Korea are on two different levels altogether. One can potentially start a major conflict or even throw the world into another global conflict but the most harm Syria can do is to itself and perhaps a neighbor or two.

    Or, perhaps I am beginning to appreciate more and more the wisdom of my “accidental” namesake, Will Rogers, as he once quoted on his radio show, “It has just become almost impossible for a country to have a nice, home-talent little revolution among themselves, without us butting into it. But here we go again. If we ever pass out as a great nation, we ought to put on our tombstone: “America died from a delusion that she had moral leadership.”

    But you never thought you would ever see this coming from me, did you?

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Actually you and Mark Stewart are most likely to take an unpredictable, but thoughtful, view….

      1. Mark Stewart

        Um, thanks Kathryn! Maybe… Hopefully.

        But I think I do disagree; Syria is more dangerous. Not because of the country, but because of Putin. North Korea isn’t going to launch nuclear missiles; China would be most at risk, and they don’t want that. But Russia seems determined to remain a protagonist in Syria. As do the Iranians. And the Israelis.

        1. Bart


          Until I read the news this morning that Putin has sent a shipment of air defense missles to Syria, my opinion would have remained the same. Now that Assad has more sophisticated weapons and with the support of Russia and Iran along with their common enemy who will retaliate if attacked, Israel, Syria may become more dangerous, especially if the fighting and involvement by Syrian sympathizers increases against world opinion. Sending fighting weapons to the rebels is one thing, they are more likely to be used for the internal fighting but air defense missles can be used for other purposes and it places the danger of spreading the internal conflict well outside the Syrian borders.

          What bothers me is the renewed aggression by Russia toward the US and Putin’s apparent lack of respect or even a healthy fear, concern, or whatever that the US would be willing to do what is necessary in the event of an unprovoked attack on other countries by Syria with Russian and Iranian support.

          Events can change in a moment and when a McCain makes an unannounced visit to the rebels and pledges support, whether with White House approval or not, it sends a message of willingness to engage in war to powers outside Syria and once again, the mettle of Obama will be tested. If the tensions do escalate, drones simply won’t be enough of a deterrent and that is a concern.

          The days of secretly or openly arming rebels in an internal struggle, i.e. Libya, should be over for the US. But, history will repeat itself and we did it again. Now what? A strong religious ideology mixed with sophisticated weapons and centuries old hatred can and will create a volatile mixture of danger that can easily spread rapidly.

          Whether it is Bush or Obama in the White House, I don’t believe either one has the strength of leadership to ward off the aggressions of a Russia and Iran along with an ever increasing hostility toward us and Israel from Turkey and Egypt. The “dominos” are falling in place slowly and the arming of Syria with missles is just another step in the process.

          And, you can bet the little guy in North Korea will sit and watch and take full advantage of the situation. Backed by the Chinese.

          It is still my position to stay out of it but now ——-

          1. Doug Ross

            The dominoes will always be “falling in place” as long as we have the mindset that the only way to peace is through military involvement.

            Look at all the resources we have wasted on trying to mediate, influence, bribe, cajole, threaten, and bargain with various entities in the Middle East over the past five decades. Is it any better?

          2. Brad Warthen

            Better than what, Doug? Better than if we’d done nothing? Who can really know? I think so, but I can’t possibly prove the point.

            Note the inconsistency in your comment. You complain of the “mindset that the only way to peace is through military involvement” — a mindset that no one I know of holds — then you cite all the other things we’ve tried to do: “influence, bribe, cajole,” etc.

            Military power is but one tool in the box in international relations. Some would take it off the table at the outset; others of us keep it in consideration along with the other options.

          3. Doug Ross

            The military involvement in that region has always been the sledgehammer in the toolbox compared to the tiny screwdriver of diplomacy. And there are some things that are too busted to bother repairing.

  4. Silence

    Iran, not Russia is the major factor in Syria. Couple Iran with a Shia insurgency in Iraq and the Alawite (Shia) regime in Syria, and Iran’s got a significant buffer, a route to the Med, and some allies.
    Replace Assad with a Sunni government and Iran’s position in the region is seriously weakened. Stabilize Iraq and it’s weakened even further.

    Russia has its own agenda, I think part of that is preserving markets for their military hardware. Another part is to keep US, or NATO forces (using US and NATO loosely here) tied down in the region, which they can do very inexpensively in this case by arming the Assad regime and the Iranians.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Yes, but Russia is the dangerous wild card here. Or more correctly, Putin is the one to remain focused on. Putin is playing the angles. That’s not something the U.S. has ever been good at engaging in.

      1. Silence

        Agreed that Putin is playing the angles, but Iran’s interests are served by preserving the Assad regime.

        1. Mark Stewart

          It is interesting when the gulf between Sunni and Shia is so great that a theocratic state would prop up a secular dictatorship. They must be hoping that Assad will survive, but be so completely weakened that Hezbollah will have free reign to hijack the country down the road. That’s not a wise bet, given the aligned interests of both the Israelis and the region’s Sunni states.

  5. Bryan Caskey

    It looks like Russia has upped the ante with a shipment of medium/long range SAMs to the Syrian government. Any Israeli airstrikes (or a NATO no-fly zone) just got a little bit more dangerous.

    I don’t see the upside of the US getting involved with troops in Syria. Both the rebels and the regime are anti-US.

    1. Silence

      I often wonder if Russia is selling weapons like SAM’s to their allies to get free testing of the systems under real-world conditions.
      Boris – “How vill zeeze radars and missles do against the imperialist F-16’s?”
      Valentin – “Let’s put some in Syria and Iran and see, then if they fail, we can make improvements to the system.”
      Boris – “Wonderful idea, comrade. We’ll ship these out to Assad right away.”

  6. Doug Ross

    If Syria was a gang fight between the Bloods and the Crips, which side would we provide AK-47’s to?

    1. Mark Stewart

      Since this is a country and not a gang war, we support the side most likely to win. And we do it with resolve and effort.

      And, maybe, we find we have some influence down the road. To do nothing guarantees that we will have no influence. That is the choice. It isn’t right from wrong; it is more base than that.

  7. Bart

    After reading the comments by some very intelligent individuals who hold differing points of view on some things and share the same on others highlights the diplomatic dilemma the US is facing in Syria, we cannot ignore the long red thread that runs through the situation is still, and no it is not religious bigotry or latent racism, it is fact, the overwhelming influence of Islam in the region. What is an oxymoron is Russia supporting Syria when Russia has its own internal problems with Muslim extremists within its own sphere of influence.

    At some point hard decisions must be made but who in our government is capable of making a hard but wise decision on what the US is to do next? No matter what is decided, the decision will be widely criticized by one side or the other but at some point, you must be decisive and firm in resolve to follow through.

    Watching the situation unfold and the changes on the ground that seem to occur almost on a daily basis, it is obvious to me and my evaluation that the fuel is already on the ground and waiting for that one spark to start a fire that won’t be controlled by conventional diplomacy. That is my fear and if the situation does explode, considering the distrust and intense dislike of the US and the influence of Russia and China, the US will be assigned a backseat role in any decision made. They really are not afraid of nor do they fear the US as they once did. The demonstration of the technology and power of the military weaponry the US possesses during the first Gulf War and the fear of it being used against any of the countries involved has been negated for some time now.

    Mark, Silence, Doug, Brad, Bryan, and Kathryn have all made valid points but what is apparent to me is that an observation of the political reaction coming from Washington is one of confusion and inconsistency, which is normal when one thinks about it.

    “And, maybe, we find we have some influence down the road. To do nothing guarantees that we will have no influence. That is the choice. It isn’t right from wrong; it is more base than that.”…..Mark

    I agree with your observation, I just don’t believe that anything we do will ever provide us a prominent place at the table again and any influence we might gain will be diminished or negated by the major players, i.e. Russia, Iran, Iraq (growing), and the quiet giant, China.

    1. Silence

      Bart – we are already beyond the point of the situation being able to be controlled or diffused by conventional diplomacy. The “Arab Spring” Islamist movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen have all forced a radical change in leadership. In the case of Libya we (most of the rest of the world) was eager to assist, but the other nations’ changes were more organic and conventional diplomacy wasn’t able to have much effect on their outcomes. Of course, the game is not over yet, and the diplomats are still hard at work trying to achieve a “friendly” outcome in these states. Syria is currently a basket-case. Bahrain was able to put down its civil unrest with the assistance of troops from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Diplomacy failed in these cases as well, and military force was required to prevail.

      We remain the overwhelming military force, bar none. We are the only state with the ability to project power globally, pretty much at will. Neither Russia nor China has the air or sealift capability to mass the type of force that we assembled in Iraq and Afghanistan. Europe can’t go it alone, either, although the French and British special forces are able to project power successfully on a small scale. Things are tricky, though. We have lost the will to fight, although we can regain that will quickly if provoked. Isolationist foreign policy isn’t a completely good nor bad idea, but isolationism is contrary to many of our national interests. The thing is, we need to be strong isolationists, not weak isolationists. As a nation, we need to be doing all of the right things to be strong. We need to work out like a boxer training for a title fight. We need to be strong economically, intellectually, morally, and of course physically.

      We need to find better ways to use diplomacy to support our interests, and we need the credible threat of military intervention to back up our diplomatic goals. The Chinese, Saudis and Russians are stretching their foreign policy legs. They use petrodollars or cheap labor dollars to buy influence abroad. They use energy policy and investment policy to achieve their goals. They hack and meddle without fear of consequence or reprisal. We do many of these things as well, but we need to do them better. The US needs a better balance of payments, we need economic independence, not debt to free our hands. Increased domestic energy production and manufacturing will help with this. Smarter domestic policy will too. We need to come up with ways to counter an asymetric warfare threat. We need the flexibility and ability to act on the world stage.

      Being a democracy means not being quite as responsive, not quite as quick as a government with power vested in one individual. Having a free press means that decisions will be publicly questioned, and in the increasingly global media marketplace, it means that our dirty laundry will be aired to the entire world. But these side-effects of democratic rule can make us stronger, rather than weaker. In the long run it should mean better decision making, increased effectiveness and legitimacy. We won’t be the only game in town, like we were after the fall of the USSR, or after the end of WWII, but we’ll still be the league MVP for the forseeable future.

      1. Bart

        Silence, exactly!! Now, where do we find the leaders capable of implementing your observations/talking points? They most certainly are not in positions of power at this moment in time. Therefore, my observation that we are in the backseat is not invalid nor does it lack merit. When you own the most powerful, fastest, and best vehicle in the race, trying to drive it from the backseat renders it ineffective.

        1. Doug Ross

          I’ll start printing the Silence/Bart 2016 bumper stickers now if you’ll approve.

          “The thing is, we need to be strong isolationists, not weak isolationists. As a nation, we need to be doing all of the right things to be strong. We need to work out like a boxer training for a title fight. We need to be strong economically, intellectually, morally, and of course physically.”

          That was perfect. And is in complete opposition to the policies of our government over my lifetime.

  8. bud

    Silence I can agree with much of what you said. But the devil is in the details. You write ” The US needs a better balance of payments, we need economic independence, not debt to free our hands. Increased domestic energy production and manufacturing will help with this.” That sounds good but is it really true? Take the “not debt” claim. I would submit that our national debt is actually falling too fast and as a result we are weaker as a nation. How? Our infrastructure is crumbling because we refuse to borrow money to build new roads, bridges and water systems. Our education stystem lags behind because we fail to provide the resources to properly educate our young people in the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century.

    As for the “increased domestic energy production”, where have you been? We are drilling oil and gas wells at a staggering rate with oil production approaching that of the early 90s and gas near all-time record levels. We don’t need more production since that is both expensive and ultimately unsustainable, rather we need a more diversified energy portfolio. What we need most is a sensible return to agressive conservation efforts, not drilling in the Arctic ocean.

    As for diplomacy vs military. That is pretty simple. The recent history of US military intervention has proven that unintended consequences will transcend any gains we may make whenever we take sides. While it may be too late for any useful diplomacy in Syria it will never be the right time for boots on the ground. So if the Russians or Iranians want to take charge of that mess I say let them knock themselves out. Ultimately we’ll be stronger as a nation if we take a hands off approach. Given the Russians debacle in Afghanistan I’m surprised they want to get involved there but I guess hubris knows no national bounds.

  9. bud

    As for John McCain, maybe he can stay in Syria as a rebel fighter. He’s certainly not of much use in the United States senate.

  10. Doug Ross

    “we refuse to borrow money to build new roads, bridges and water systems.”

    We also refuse to shift money from other areas to those infrastructure items. You don’t always have to borrow more money to pay for the things you need. Saddling our country with even more debt is not going to make us more powerful.

    ” Our education stystem lags behind because we fail to provide the resources to properly educate our young people in the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century.”

    There is no evidence to support this. What resources are not provided? Richland school district 2 has been handing out iPads and netbooks for several years now to thousands of students and there is no measurable improvement in the results. Our education problems are a result of parents and society, not spending.

    1. Steven Davis II

      Why use money for infrastructure when it could be used to buy employees retirement time? Priorities…

    2. Bart

      “we refuse to borrow money to build new roads, bridges and water systems.” bud


      We have severa local road improvement projects worth several million dollars waiting to be started and the money is in the bank waiting to be spent but due to the inefficiency of the state and local governments, the roads keep getting worse and worse while the money collects interest. And the money was collected by adding a one cent tax a few years ago and the tax is still being collected.

      No, the problem is not with the money, it is with the incompetent people in charge of the money and their inability to follow proper procedures, do their due diligence to hold responsible parties accountable, and when nothing is done, they blame everyone else and the usual response is the typical one bud uses, “more tax money is needed”.

      BS!! If you missed it the first time, once more for emphasis – BS!!!!

      1. bud

        No Bart there isn’t more money. The state gasoline tax, per gallon, has remained the same for decades. That has resulted in a dramatic drop in the actual percentage of the price of a gallon of gas devoted to the gas tax. The result is a huge increase in the needs for highway repairs combined with a corresponding inflation-adjusted decline in money available.

        1. Bart

          “No Bart there isn’t more money.”…Bud

          Now bud, how the hell do you know there is no money available for the local projects I was referring to? There was a local one cent tax imposed to pay for the improvements, it was collected and is sitting in the bank. The reason I know this is because one of the members of the county board was talking about it this morning and his complaint was exactly as stated. And for years, along with me, anyone who has spent money locally has contributed to the tax fund.

  11. bud

    In Chicago schools are being closed and classrooms in the remaining schools packed with classroom sizes of 36 or more. At the same time the private school Depaul is receiving funds from the city to build a new and largely unnecessary basketball arena. Indeed priorities can be skewed at times. Still, it is clear that more, not less, spending will make us stronger if done properly. Austerity is not the way to go. Just ask the Spaniards.

    1. Doug Ross

      Let me know when we begin the austerity program here. We only talk about slowing the rate of growth, not the actual dollars spent.

      The Chicago schools that are closing were performing terribly. They just went through a teacher strike that raised salaries. It’s not a money issue, it’s a performance issue. You can’t buy good students.

  12. bud

    Hopefully we’ll never have disasterous European style austerity. But if the Tea Partiers and Libertarians ever get there way I’m sure 25% unemployment rates won’t be far behind.

    1. Doug Ross

      Don’t worry, bud. The 10% unemployment of Democrats and Republicans is the best you can hope for.

  13. Bryan Caskey

    Here’s a question: Many people have suggested that we just “let them fight each other until the maximum number of the jihadis (on either side) have killed each other.”

    Without endorsing that, and without questioning that: I’m wondering how the notion that Assad seems to now be winning this war, and, as some think, he will win it within the next year or so, modifies the previous “do nothing” stance.

    If we want them to keep fighting each other and Assad is slowly moving towards a win, does that mean we should step up support for the rebels in order to prolong the fighting even if we don’t really support them?

    I’m just asking. This is not a rhetorical question. It’s a question-question.

    It’s one of those few times someone actually asks a straight question on the Internet.

  14. bud

    The 64 billion dollar question when it comes to supporting the rebels is which rebels? And at what level do we support them? It’s not like WW II when supporting the British in 1940 was a pretty straight forward proposition. IF and that’s a gigantic IF there was some truly moderate rebel faction with legitimate underpinnings of normalcy I could see us arming them to the extent that Assad was ousted from power. But that seems like more of an academic question since it is really impossible to identify such a faction. This is very frustrating to see all the carnage and devastation and long-term chaos this creates. But I just don’t buy into the idea that the US is somehow capable of really making a positive difference. It’s delicate and we could end up with another Iran or North Korea. That’s what we got with past attempts to make the world a better place through military action. Ok there was Vietnam. That place seems to be pretty benign after a long American military involvment. Perhaps it can be done but we may have to lose at some point. Not sure losing a war is what anyone wants.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, in 1940, supporting Britain was pretty controversial in this country. FDR pushed ahead and made it happen anyway, in spite of the mood of the country, but the isolationists were very strong politically until Dec. 8, 1941.

      I wrote about one of my favorite anecdotes about that in a post back in 2009. It was about how controversial the Lord Nelson biopic starring Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh was, right up until Pearl Harbor:

      Here’s the kicker: After the movie, the guy who introduces the features on TCM said the movie was so chock-full of homilies about the importance of standing up to dictators that the director was summoned to Congress — still gripped by isolationism — where our lawmakers were investigating pro-war propaganda by Hollywood. He was scheduled to appear on Dec. 12, 1941, so he lucked out there. By his appearance date, isolationism was no longer quite the thing, you know.

      Imagine that — Hollywood being investigated for pro-war propaganda.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        OK that’s an oversimplification. I just checked my facts against Wikipedia, which comes in handy no matter what some people say about it:

        In December 1940 President Roosevelt proclaimed the U.S. would be the “Arsenal of Democracy” and proposed selling munitions to Britain and Canada.[7] Isolationists were strongly opposed, warning it would lead to American involvement in what was seen by most Americans as an essentially European conflict. In time, however, opinion shifted as increasing numbers of Americans began to see the advantage of funding the British war against Germany, while staying out of the hostilities themselves.[8]
        The American position was to help the British but not enter the war. In early February 1941 a Gallup poll revealed that 54 percent of Americans were unqualifiedly in favor of Lend-Lease. A further 15 percent were in favor with qualifications such as: “If it doesn’t get us into war,” or “If the British can give us some security for what we give them.” Only 22 percent were unqualifiedly against the President’s proposal. When poll participants were asked their party affiliation, the poll revealed a sharp political divide: 69 percent of Democrats were unqualifiedly in favor of Lend-Lease, whereas only 38 percent of Republicans favored the bill without qualification. A poll spokesperson also noted that, “approximately twice as many Republicans” gave “qualified answers as … Democrats.”[9]
        Opposition to the Lend-Lease bill was strongest among isolationist Republicans in Congress, who feared that the measure would be “the longest single step this nation has yet taken toward direct involvement in the war abroad.” When the House of Representatives finally took a roll call vote on February 9, 1941, the 260 to 165 vote fell largely along party lines. Democrats voted 238 to 25 in favor and Republicans 24 in favor and 135 against.

        So yeah, the isolationists remained strong. But at least by February of 1941, Roosevelt had a majority of the country behind Lend-Lease.

  15. Doug Ross

    I came upon this passage in a book I was reading on a flight today:

    “House Resolution 159 states: Resolved, That the House of Representatives strongly supports diplomatic efforts to resolve the current crisis in Lebanon, and encourages the president to pursue, a comprehensive and coordinated policy in Lebanon, including the development of an effective cease-fire, resolution of the issue of Syrian missiles, and promotion of the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Lebanon. ”

    Since when have the people of the United States become the guarantor of Lebanon? Such a promise could require the use of troops, as well as billions of tax dollars. Are we to solve the issue of Syrian missiles by force? Or use our troops to patrol a cease-fire? This overbroad resolution, sponsored by the leadership of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has within it the seeds of possible trouble for the United States. Congress should not have considered it in such a fashion, with Members hardly even having time to read it. We need less meddling in the internal affairs of other nations, not more. But this resolution could be used to justify who-knows-what use of dollars and lives in a future conflict or peacekeeping operation.

    The author? Ron Paul. The reason? A speech in Congress on a recently passed bill related to Lebanon/Syria.

    The year? 1981.

    The more things change…

  16. Doug Ross

    And now we learn that one of the people standing next to McCain in one of his photo ops is a suspected kidnapper of 11 Lebanese pilgrims. Ooops. Hard to tell the players without a scorecard. But McCain loves the limelight…

    1. bud

      Doug, I saw that. Since when has it become acceptable for a United States senator to go to a war plagued country and make foreign policy? Isn’t that the job of the state department? Whether you agree or disagree with the President he is THE president and should be allowed to do his job without being undermined at every turn. I find the McCain trip highly disturbing on many levels not least of which is the obvious attempt to work around the Constitution.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Bud, I’d be concerned about that, too, had McCain not checked in with the administration before going. And I believe he was going to be debriefed on his return.

        Such an emissary who is NOT an emissary can be valuable. The administration can completely disavow anything he says or does — such as standing next to the wrong guy — in a way it could not, say, with John Kerry. And yet McCain can bring back important messages.

        Focusing on all the recent hollering over Benghazi and Syria can obscure the fact that McCain (and Graham) are guys who put country first. Both of them (especially Graham) have in the past relished the role of loyal opposition foreign policy advisers to this administration.

        That was a natural role because, in truth, the Obama administration has in large part continued the policies of the Bush administration with regard to national security.

        It’s interesting to note that now, as the McCain/Graham faction pulls further away from the administration, the president starts returning (rhetorically at least) to his base, talking about “ending” the war on terror and closing Guantanamo. Perhaps the two things are related…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          As Jay Carney said earlier in the week:

          “We were aware that Sen. McCain was going to make this trip,” Carney said, referring other questions about the administration’s role in the visit to the State Department. He added the White House was looking forward to “speaking with Sen. McCain upon his return to learn more.”

  17. bud

    Brad, regardless of how you want to spin this there really isn’t any diplomatic value in a US Senator standing next to an alleged kidnapper. That undermines our credibility as a nation and could easily compromise Kerry’s overall diplomatic efforts. McCain has suggested recently that we can easily identify the “good” rebels and provide them with heavy arms. If this guy is one of the “good” rebels I’d hate to see what a bad rebel looks like. At some point we just need to accept that the US military just can’t resolve every conflict to the best interests of the world.

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