I just had two discussions with neighbors in my suburb of Philadelphia that offer both a hope that the Republican-run House may block President Obama’s war on Syria, and a warning that liberal Democrats could hand him the narrow majority he needs to claim Congressional backing for his war.
The first conversation was with a neighbor whose family is fundamentalist Christian. Each national or statewide election, they enthusiastically back, including with roadside signs on their property, the Republican candidate, including McCain/Palin and Romney/Ryan.
We are friends with this family. The parents are very much do-it-yourselfers, home-schooling their three kids with the help of a religious-based home-schooling association in the area that helps organize some group activities, cutting their own firewood, raising chickens, etc. The kids are all very smart and open-minded, though both boys are attending religious colleges. But while we all get along well and like each other, we never talk politics.
That is, until yesterday, when the mother and I got onto the issue of the looming war on Syria. “This is terrible,” she said. “I thought at least that Obama was against this kind of thing. Didn’t he say he thought the war on Iraq was wrong? What’s going on?”
She wants to know what the US has to do with a civil war in Syria, and how bombing and killing Syrians is going to make anything any better in that country, or this one. And she said she thinks there are more important things to spend money on in the US, noting the terrible condition of education in neighboring Philadelphia, where class size in elementary schools is now 37, “with no teachers’ aides,” and where the school district is bankrupt.
I found myself thinking this woman sounded like me, and we parted casting shared aspersions on both political parties, which we agreed are not responding to the public’s views.
Then it was lunch with a several liberal friends. We very quickly found ourselves discussing what looks to be the next in this country’s unending string of wars, which have been a national constant at least since Pearl Harbor–and for all of our lives.
I was expecting to have a four-man rant about the insanity of a bombing attack on Syria, but was stunned when one of the men at the table, a sweet retired guy who I’m sure wouldn’t harm a fly, and who spent his life in the health care field, said, “I hope we go in and bomb Syria, and I hope we ‘take out’ Assad and his wife.”
Shocked, I asked, “What about his kids?”
He said, “Kids too. Kill ‘em all!”
A second guy, also a mellow fellow who has been very opposed to the wars, wasn’t quite so bloodthirsty in his sentiments, but said he was for bombing Syria too. “We can’t allow a country to use poison gas,” he said.
When I pointed out that it is not at all clear that President Bashar al-Assad’s government and military was responsible for the gas attack in Damascus, and that the administration’s case for blaming Assad and for going to war is full of lies, half-truths and conjecture, with no verifiable facts to support it, he scoffed. After all the government’s lies about Iraq, and lies about Afghanistan, and after a more than a decade of two wars that accomplished nothing except to destroy two countries with a combined population of almost 50 million people, he refused to believe that we are being lied to yet again.
“We have to do something,” he said plaintively, clearly either unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that there’s something obscene about a nation that poisoned millions of Vietnamese with the defoliant Agent Orange, that has strewn depleted uranium all across the cities of Iraq, that uses child-shredding anti-personnel weapons all the time and sells them on the global arms market, refusing to sign onto a global ban, and that continues to use napalm, a prohibited weapon, by simply changing an ingredient so it can claim it is something else, trying to claim it has the moral authority to punish another nation for allegedly using poison gas.
Only the third member of this group of friends, a retired Philadelphia teacher, agreed with me that an attack on Syria was nuts and will just lead to another disaster and another destroyed country.
What does this odd turnabout of sentiments suggest? First of all that Republicans who are pressing the president to expand the goals of an attack on Syria to include “degrading” Assad’s military, thus further supporting the fundamentalist Islamic rebels seeking his overthrow, are seriously out of step with a grass-roots conservative public that is sick of all the wars, and that wants the US to get out of the Empire business and the wars that are integral to it. Whether it’s because they want to see money spent on important things here in the US, or just want their taxes cut and the deficit reduced, or because they simply are becoming isolationist, conservative Americans are sick of all the wars. If Republican leaders in Congress try to ram through support for a larger war effort against Syria, and succeed in getting Obama to enlarge his goals to include regime change in order to win their approval, they may end up paying for it at the polls, or at least in primary challenges.
Meanwhile, liberal Democrats are getting a mixed message from their “base.” Many traditional liberal voters who helped to elect President Obama to two terms of office, unwilling to undermine him, seem ready to buy his fraudulent argument that the US has to “punish” Syria for violating “international norms.” But this sentiment is not universal. Many who backed Obama, like my retired teacher friend, are clearly fed up with the Obama betrayal, and don’t want any part of another war. But will their numbers and their frustration and opposition to war be enough to keep rank-and-file Democrats in Congress from following the lead of Democratic leaders and backing the president to “maintain his credibility”?
I don’t know.
All I can say is that, while my sample is clearly very limited and unscientific, the national political picture must be seriously in flux when I can find myself more in agreement with my McCain/Palin-backing conservative anti-war neighbors than with my liberal Democratic, Obama-backing war-monger friends. I would add that Democrats in Congress, and President Obama, if he’s concerned about his “legacy,” should understand that if Syria is attacked, and the same disaster ensues that followed US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, they risk engendering the same disgust and anger among those liberals who backed them on the basis of their lies as Bush and Cheney encountered among many of their deceived backers when their lies were exposed. (It is already becoming clear, even before any attack, that the whole administration case that the Syrian government launched the gas attack is a lie, as this letter from 12 former military officials and CIA agents explains in detail.)
Maybe the one silver lining in a criminal US attack on Syria — assuming such a war of aggression would not set off a huge international conflagration or even WWIII — could be the final collapse of liberal backing for Obama and the corporatist Democrats like him who have commandeered the Democratic Party for decades. That would bring us back to the days of Lyndon Johnson, when by 1968, most liberal Democrats had had it with his war in Indochina, and abandoned him for candidates like Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, both of whom promised to end that bloody, long-running war.