I’m neither a Constitutional scholar nor an historian of American politics of any repute, but I have to imagine that the game of war powers hot potato that’s recently played out between President Obama and (some in) Congress is a rare thing in the history of the Republic. Because it doesn’t stand to reason that those who aspire to, and obtain, political office would in general be eager to cede power to another branch of government. Say what you like about politicians, but blushing at the exercise of power is not to be found as one of their core characteristics. Except, maybe, when the decision to be made is fraught with down side. Then you may want to toss that potato to the next poor shlub.
That may be what we’re seeing with the decision on how the US should respond to what we are told is a Sarin gas attack by Assad’s forces on a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21 that killed nearly 1,500 civilians, including many women and children. Initially a retaliatory strike by the Obama administration seemed a foregone conclusion, but then on Aug. 21 Obama stepped back and said that he would seek Congressional approval for military action against the Assad regime in Syria. Then some in Congress wanted to pass that potato right back. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.):
President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The president doesn’t need 535 members of Congress to enforce his own red line.
And it’s not too hard to see why that may be. While Rep. King may be honestly defending firmly held constitutional principles, there is little certainly and a lot of danger in military action. There doesn’t look to the possibility of developing any sort of coalition around a military operation, excepting perhaps France. It doesn’t appear that the chemical weapons are in areas that can be struck without the high risk of collateral damage. And what would the mission be exactly? To weaken the Assad regime enough that the rebel factions can overthrow him? To fight for the good guys? Who are the good guys exactly? Are there any? If you care to you can go to Youtube and watch plenty of examples of executions and atrocities on both sides. Some of the rebel factions, such as the Al-Nusra Front, have Al-Qaeda ties.
So it doesn’t look neat and tidy, at least to me. There are a myriad of serious constitutional, humanitarian, and international relations issues intersecting in Syria. Though, if you are one of those who peruse the Internet from time to time you may be forgiven for failing to grasp the severity and seriously of the situation. Because, of the many sins of the Internet, the pumping into the atmosphere of untold metric tons of snark and glib has to be in the top five.
With a blog, or worse Twitter, so many folk are looking for that one liner, that bon mot, that 140 character smart bomb that will incinerate the enemy and bring fame, favorites, and retweets (and then…profit I suppose? I’ve never been clear on what comes next). The examples are legion, but take this tweet from Glenn Greenwald:
The link is to a short blog post at Eschaton titled Hard Work, the complete contents:
The serious people seem to agree that, well, yes, maybe there are other things we could do besides blowing stuff up. But, you know, that’s hard work. Blowing stuff up is easy!
It’s also expensive, kills people, and doesn’t achieve anything positive.
At least it’s easy.
Well that was glib! Blowing stuff up is is bad, it does lots of bad things. But it’s easy! That exclamation point may be indicative of some snark. Do you feel edified? Even a little? Maybe not, but at least it afforded some commenters to join the snarkoff. Here is Steve Simels, he has Brian the dog from Family Guy as his avatar, so he is pretty hip:
As I said a few weeks ago, this country hasn’t just jumped the shark, it’s jumped the Sharknado.
Hah! Remember Sharknado? Yeah that thing from Twitter. It also may be been a show on some basic cable station. Not skipping a beat JeffCO responds to Steve: “Another failure of the War on Tara.” I think I get that one, because Tara Reid was an actress in Sharknado! But enough with Internet comments, that’s one abyss you do not want gazing into you.
The snark will be there, and I can’t imagine it will do anything but get worse. But there are those out there who are neither glib nor snarky, you just have to find them. My personal recommendation, for any topic in general but Syria in particular is The War Nerd, he tweets and writes for NSFWcorp. You won’t find any snark or glib, but a question from a recent tween does haunt me as I think it may serve as an epitaph for our times:
What did you think, they were ironists like us?