In the run-up to World War II, Franklin Roosevelt played the role of the reluctant warmonger. Rather than initiating the action, he took care to be always responding to the war cries of his hopped up left-wing supporters – who were demanding US intervention on behalf of the beleaguered Soviet Union. The American people wanted to stay out of the European war, and the President had to ever-so-cautiously lead them down the primrose path, deceiving them every step of the way while he and Winston Churchill plotted behind their backs to get us into the war.
As the 1940 campaign came down to the wire, Roosevelt intoned: "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars."
A year later, in alliance with "Uncle" Joe Stalin, we were at war on two fronts.
Back then, it took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the death of 2,400 service members and civilians to get us into a world war. Today it takes a video of the horrific deaths of two American journalists traveling in a war zone, played over and over in an infinite loop of orchestrated hysteria. If they’d only had YouTube in Roosevelt’s day he would’ve succeeded in lying us into war much sooner.
In an age where imagery takes the place of text – and of rational thought – the ISIS public relations department certainly knows its business. If the whole point of using social media to transmit horrific images of their deeds is to lure us into re-invading Iraq, then they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. While it seems like only yesterday that the President disdained ISIS as "junior varsity," today he is mobilizing a mighty worldwide "coalition" to wipe out a group he claims is capable of attacking the United States.
And it must be said that if this President is employing FDR’s old methods, he has none of the old boy’s charm. Addressing the American people like a rather testy teacher who, one can plainly see, would rather be almost anywhere else, Obama launched into his dreary peroration exuding a skunk-like aura of insincerity. No flowery, inspiring introduction: no soaring rhetoric to thrill the slavering masses, already pumped up by our war-mad media, just the matter-of-fact bare-bones edict of the master of the world:
"My fellow Americans, tonight I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL."
Note the use of the future tense, and the certainty with which the President asserts it: "… I want to speak to you about what the United States will do"!
Although the Constitution forbids it, American presidents have been taking us into war without congressional consent ever since Harry Truman bypassed the Republican "isolationists" and sent US troops to Korea. This President, like any Roman Caesar, claims the power to take us into war by a simple act of will. Some in Congress are questioning this, on both sides of the aisle, but we’ll see how far that gets: not very far, I suspect.
The President segues easily into a campaign commercial extolling his achievements in the war on terrorism: we got bin Laden, we sewed up Yemen, and we knocked off that dude in Somalia. And all these shiny presents come packaged in the rhetoric of war-weary "isolationism":
"We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer."
Obama’s makeup as a quintessentially political creature is here on full display: he knows perfectly well the American people, in their present mood, won’t tolerate talk of new wars unless it’s framed by the promise of some respite.
Oh yes, and "America is safer." Gee, that’s funny, but Americans don’t feel any safer. Could that be due to the panic-mongering of government officials, and their media megaphones, who are ginning up fear of a bunch of savages situated somewhere out in the no-man’s-land between Iraq and Syria?
Amid all the requisite condemnations of the Islamic State’s supposedly unique brutality, Obama blandly says of them: "They kill children." Can he really not be aware of the alarming proportion of children among Gaza’s dead?
Mustering all his capacity for professorial disdain, Obama declaims:
"Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents… And ISIL is certainly not a state."
Two gigantic lies – or, rather, self-delusions – packed into very few sentences. This is the only sort of frugality practiced by government officials.
Of course practically every religion has condoned the killing of innocents at one time or another: al-Qaeda and like-minded folk don’t call us the "Crusaders" for nothing. And it all depends on how one defines "innocents": the idea that there are no innocents among the residents of Gaza has recently gained an alarming popularity in Israel.
And as for his claim that the Islamic State "is certainly not a state," the President’s tone is rather too defensive. He says "it is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates," but none of these factors are relevant in determining what constitutes a state – which is nothing more or less than a monopoly on the use of force in a given territory. The horror that is ISIL is merely the process of state formation looked at up close: the terror they employ is simply an exaggerated rendition of how every state gains its "legitimacy" – by definitively establishing its coercive monopoly. While ISIL is doing so in a particularly graphic manner, in principle it is acting no differently than any other embryonic state in history, benign creation myths to the contrary notwithstanding.
So much for theory: now we get down to the actual practice. So what is the Grand Strategy behind Iraq War III? For starters, who are the other members of this allegedly "broad coalition"? "This is not our fight alone," says Obama: but who else is going to be doing the fighting?
The President is vague on this front. The only specifics we get are brief mentions of the new Iraqi government and our arming of the Kurds. Yes, there will be air strikes, and some 475 more troops will go to Iraq but "these American forces will not have a combat mission – we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq" and by the way this isn’t really a war, it’s a "comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy."
But of course it’s a war when our pilots are flying over enemy territory dropping bombs, and this is apparently the linchpin of our strategy: air strikes, which Obama vows will occur not only in Iraq but also in Syria. And therein lies the key to understanding this latest bout of war hysterics.
"Across the border, in Syria," the President announced
"We have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people – a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all."
This is the real crux of the matter, and the actual reason for this intensive barrage of war propaganda: it’s a back door way to carry out regime-change in Syria. Stopped from bombing Syria in direct support of the Islamist rebels by an upsurge of antiwar sentiment, the President is using the execution of two American journalists as a pretext to intervene in the Syrian civil war in a big way.
The fact that Sotloff – and quite possibly Foley – was kidnapped by the very rebel group we’ve been supporting with arms and money all along, the "Free Syrian Army" – doesn’t enter into the equation. That’s because Washington’s contempt for the American people collectively is no less virulent than it is in the case of individuals, such as the family of Steven Sotloff, whose sources have confirmed the treachery of the US-supported "moderates," and whose treatment at the hands of this administration has been shameful.
Just as Roosevelt took the "back door to war" in 1941, inching ever closer to full engagement with the enemy but not so fast as to startle the American people, so Obama is taking the back door to regime change in Syria, easing us into it slowly – until the next "traumatic" event catalyzes a new wave of war hysteria that will take us up to the next level.
This is what Hillary Clinton fought for during her tenure at the State Department: together with David Petraeus, the two of them plotted and schemed to use the Syrian rebels as a battering ram against Bashar al-Assad – and, standing behind him, Iran.
So they’re getting their Syrian war anyway: the War Party, always a sore loser, never takes a defeat lying down.
In undertaking this new military adventure – which will no doubt be given some pretentious moniker: might I suggest "Operation Doubletalk"? – President Obama is laying the groundwork for his presumed successor, who will pursue it with far more alacrity than he has shown.
The Islamic State is merely a pretext: the real objective of Operation Doubletalk is regime change in Syria and minimizing Iranian influence in the region. As ISIL seeks to fill the power vacuum left by the destruction of the Iraqi Ba’athist regime, America’s re-entry into the region marks the beginning of Iraq War III – which looks to be an expanded version of the first two conflicts.
Now the matter goes to Congress – or does it? They don’t seem too eager to put their imprimatur on this war, for reasons that are perfectly understandable. And that should tell you all you need to know about this latest US crusade for truth, justice, and the American Way.
The whole project stinks to high heaven; it literally reeks with the overripe aroma of failure, and no one in Congress wants to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Our war birds may be crowing triumphantly now, but I give it a few weeks before the reaction sets in and they’re drowned out by questions about just what we’ve gotten ourselves into this time.
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).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.