Whatever else comes out of this ill-conceived and distinctly weird replay of the run up to the Iraq war, it will have established one fact beyond any doubt: House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, congressional doyenne of a corrupted corporate liberalism, is teetering on the brink of senility. What other conclusion can we draw from her latest colloquy with the media?:
"I’ll tell you this story and then I really do have to go. My five-year-old grandson, as I was leaving San Francisco yesterday, he said to me, Mimi, my name, Mimi, war with Syria, are you yes war with Syria, no, war with Syria. And he’s five years old. We’re not talking about war; we’re talking about action. Yes war with Syria, no with war in Syria. I said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ He said, ‘I think no war.’ I said, ‘Well, I generally agree with that but you know, they have killed hundreds of children, they’ve killed hundreds of children there. ‘ And he said, five years old, ‘Were these children in the United States?’ And I said, ‘No, but they’re children wherever they are.’
"So I don’t know what news he’s listening to …"
The littlest Pelosi knows he’s an American. Unlike his grandmother, he puts his own country and its interests first: unlike the Washington politicians, the ivory tower think-tankers, and the transnational elites who think they have a divine mandate to determine what happens in far-off Syria, his first impulse is to ask: what’s this got to do with us?
To Grandma Pelosi, however, "us" means not the United States, or even the West – because the purview of the political class is the entire globe. This assumption is so ingrained in our policy elites that to even question it is considered childishly naïve – which is why Pelosi told this little story to the press in the first place.
A more aware politician would have immediately grasped the counterintuitive implications of her little morality tale – especially in the context of a nation that has been at war for over a decade, and with no end in sight. Because Pelosi surrounds herself with sycophants, however, and never even deigns to debate her opponents come election time – she’s refused every single time – she has no feedback, no clue as to how the rest of the country is thinking and feeling. And even if she did, her carefully gerrymandered and utterly safe district inures her to the wider implications of her cluelessness.
To the reporters crowding around her, who share the globalist assumptions of the political class, her remarks seemed… well, unremarkable. To ordinary people, however, Pelosi’s smart-as-a-whip grandson posed a very good question, perhaps the only pertinent one in this whole debate: what does the Syrian civil war have to do with us? Which makes one wonder: what was Pelosi thinking as she related a narrative whose real meaning seemed to elude her.
Which brings us rather neatly to the central question underlying the debate over whether to strike Syria: What was the Obama administration thinking when they decided to try to pull this off? Do they live on another planet from the rest of us?
That is really the central issue here. Forget the "weapons of mass destruction:" let’s not even talk about the vague and very shaky "evidence" linking the Assad regime to the use of sarin gas – and it’s probably best to ignore the "moral" arguments users of phosphorus bombs and depleted uranium weaponry invoke when justifying this war. The real question is what kind of mindset are the Nancy Pelosis of this world operating under. It’s not a partisan mindset: the leadership of both parties, as well as the White House have all drunk from the same pitcher of Kool-Aid. As a top White House aide explained to journalist Ron Suskind during the run up to the Iraq war:
"The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
This is why Pelosi likens war critics to her five-year-old grandson: in Pelosi’s world, she and her powerbroker buddies are the only real adults in the equation. The rest of us are mere children, to be talked down to and mollified, but essentially ignored – and, when necessary, disciplined. They are "history’s actors" – and we are history’s pawns.
This Bourbon conceit animates the leadership of both parties, and the entire Washington establishment, whether they come down on the "left" or the "right" side of the aisle: the idea that America’s political class is uniquely entitled and indeed destined by fate to determine the course of world events is the central canon of the political class. They blithely refer to the "world order" imposed by Washington the way parents assume the inherent rightness of a desire to control the behavior of their errant progeny.
This secularized notion of the divine right of kings is behind every argument for intervention in Syria’s nightmare: e.g. here is War Street Journal editor Bret Stephens denouncing the notion that the people’s representatives get to actually vote on the Syrian war as evidence of a dreadful "isolationism." This is a matter for adults, after all.
Likewise, the idea that it is the moral duty of the US to draw a "red line" over the use of chemical weaponry in warfare assumes Washington’s parental role as a given. Aside from the historical reality that the US government is no innocent when it comes to deploying its own monstrous arsenal, the premise behind this line of argument assumes a world awash in sarin if we don’t act. Yet that didn’t happen when US-backed Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons – coming from a US factory in Pennsylvania – against Iran, where over 100,000 chemical warfare survivors are currently living. It didn’t happen when we used phosphorus in the siege of Fallujah – or did it?
If we take seriously this particular talking point – the chemical-weapons-are-a-"red-line" doctrine – then it is fair to say the failure of someone – anyone! – to punish the US for crossing the line in Iraq led directly to the Ghouta atrocity. By that "logic," we should’ve bombed ourselves back in 2004.
Pelosi wails about "the children." Yes, it’s always about "the children," isn’t it? Every war propaganda campaign in modern history has featured them in starring roles as the ubiquitous first victims of the tyrant’s sword. The Kaiser was impaling them on Prussian bayonets, according to Her Majesty’s propagandists intent on dragging us into WWI: more recently, images of newborns thrown out of their incubators and trodden underfoot by Iraqi jackboots were conjured by the Emir’s propagandists as the rationale for Gulf War I. Screaming crying children clinging to their mothers’ skirts served as background music for "news" reports designed to gin up the Kosovo war.
Yet there are some babies the War Party would rather not talk about—such as those who will come under the heading of "collateral damage" as US bombs rain on Syria. They don’t want to talk about the babies caught up in the sectarian cleansing campaign that will be carried out by US-backed Syrian jihadists as our air strikes give them the advantage. There won’t be many Alawite or Christian children left in the whole country by the time US-backed "rebels" overrun the place.
Selectively child-centered war pornography is a staple in the interventionist arsenal, the old stand by resorted to when reason fails: indeed, the failure of reason, and the prevention of rational thought is the cognitive goal of all war propaganda. Facts, logic, evidence, all are thrown out the window and raw emotion overrides thought. Violence is the inevitable result.
It’s easy to manipulate people when their rational faculties are shut down. Under these circumstance, full-grown women and men don’t even know they’re being manipulated – but the Littlest Pelosi wasn’t fooled. That’s because children, being master manipulators themselves, usually know when someone’s trying to put one over on them. Skillfully dodging Grandma’s war propaganda aimed at his heart, he wanted the facts, and his incisive question – "Were these children in the United States?" – goes right to the heart of the matter.
Is American foreign policy about protecting the people of this country, or is it about crusading to "end evil" – as George W. Bush put it in one of his more neoconnish presidential perorations – on a global scale? Are we an empire now, as Bush’s aide boasted, with the power to impose a global reality of our own creation through sheer force of arms? Is the "progressive" vision of the US government as the prime mover of social and economic progress applicable to the rest of the world?
In the fable of the "Emperor’s New Clothes," it took a child to puncture the illusions of his elders and state the truth: that the monarch was stark nekkid. In the 21st century version, which we might call "The Empress’s New Get Up," that child is a member of the royal family – and a future Republican of the Rand Paul persuasion, no doubt.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).