Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Failure theater in the Syrian war

Jerry Stratton, January 23, 2019

A “Liberal” Surrender—Any Thing to Beat Grant: Liberal Republicans stand on and behind a Civil-War era fortification. Some take aim at President Grant and his troops, also behind the fortification. Those standing on the battlement signal their surrender to the approaching Democrats, Ku Klux Klanners, and Tammany Hall ring.; Republicans; Democrats; Ulysses S. Grant; Tammany Hall; Ku Klux Klan; KKK

“Anything to beat Grant.”

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another which states that this has already happened. — Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

There is a theory that beltway Democrats and Republicans are not opposed to each other, that they merely delegate issues to continually fail on. Failure theater. That is, they pretend to oppose something but mean to fail. Syria calls that to mind now. Democrats, it turns out, actually want troops in Syria; they were opposing it merely for failure theater. When President Trump decided that our mission in Syria was finished, they were forced into showing their true position.

In that theory, it doesn't matter that Trump is a Republican, or that they hate him. They’d be flip-flopping even if, say, President Obama had chosen to pull out of Syria.

The other theory, of course, is that Democrats reflexively oppose whatever Trump does. They call for the firing of Comey; Trump fires him, they oppose the firing of Comey. They call for leaving Syria, Trump announces we’re leaving Syria, and they don’t call it a win for their policy, they pivot to opposing leaving Syria. They call for border walls, Trump campaigns and wins on border walls, they don’t call it a win, they oppose border walls.

Up until now, I've thought that the latter theory explains the Democrats flip-flopping better and that the former is conspiracy-theory territory. But their turn-around on Syria makes it much more believable. Most people, Democrats or Republicans, don't really care one way or another who runs the FBI or whether we have drones killing terrorists in the Middle East. But a lot of people who vote Democrat do care about whether we are engaged in foreign wars. Opposition to war overseas, especially in the Middle East, is one of the their base’s defining stances.

It reminds me a little of Lincoln's story about Illinois Democrats changing their principles based on the word from the national party. They’d been going along with the old Missouri Compromise, limiting slavery to states where it already existed. Then national Democrats sent them word that their policy had changed, and slavery should be expanded into the Nebraska territories.

Apropos of this, let me tell you an anecdote. [Stephen] Douglas introduced the Nebraska bill in January. In February afterward there was a called session of the Illinois legislature. Of the one hundred members composing the two branches of that body, about seventy were Democrats. These latter held a caucus, in which the Nebraska bill was talked of, if not formally discussed. It was thereby discovered that just three, and no more, we’re in favor of the measure. In a day or two Douglas’s orders came on to have resolutions passed approving the bill; and they were passed by large majorities!!! The truth of this is vouched for by a bolting Democratic member. The masses, too, Democratic as well as Whig, were even nearer unanimous against it; but, as soon as the party necessity of supporting it became apparent, the way the Democrats began to see the wisdom and justice of it was perfectly astonishing.

If their policy was based on principles, as Lincoln’s was, the policy would not be so easy to turn around. Certainly not for the rank-and-file. In the case of Syria, I’ve seen a few of the diehard party repeaters on Facebook suddenly do their own turnaround in lockstep with the beltway Democrats. Most, however, have not—mind you, they haven’t continued to oppose war in Syria, they’ve just remained silent on Trump’s choice to withdraw.

In this sense it also reminds me heavily about Frederik Pohl’s story about American socialists changing their principles after word from their national leaders. In The Way the Future Was, Pohl writes:

That summer Joe Stalin and Adolf Hitler signed their nonaggression pact. Consternation in the left wing. Argument and confusion among the political Futurians. And a few weeks later the panzer divisions were loping through Poland.

It was a stressful and perplexing time. The Communist Party expressed no doubts. They made a 180-degree flip-flop overnight. On one day the slogans were “Quarantine the Aggressor” and “Death to the Nazis.” On the next it was “Keep America Out of the Imperialist War.”

The interesting thing about Pohl's case, is that it changed his mind.

I found it more and more difficult to function as a YCL [Young Communist League] leader, or even to sit through a meeting. I knew what words I was supposed to say, but I couldn’t stand the taste of them on my tongue.

It will be interesting to see if the same thing happens now, with the Democrats’ flip-flop on Syria, or whether this ends up being more like the Democrats’ support of expanding slavery in the territories.

Because in their panic, they’re saying some awfully stupid things. My favorite is the jab that he’s wrong to want more troops on the southern border than in Syria. Why, it’s as if Trump cares more about having troops on our border than about having troops in the Middle East! Which is an absolutely nutty charge. The first charge of any military is to protect their country's own borders. Everything the military does must be done in service of keeping the country’s borders safe. That’s why Syria hawks justified war in Syria by claiming that being there makes us safer here. It’s why Iraq hawks justified war in Iraq by claiming that being there made us safer here, and so on at least back to Vietnam and the domino theory.

I’m still inclined to the “they hate Trump” theory more than the “failure theater” theory. But it’s much more of a toss-up now. Is the Democrats’ unreasoning flip-flopping as obvious to everyone else, including Democrat voters, as it is to me? I don't know. But it will be interesting to see how the sudden Democrat hawkishness in the beltway plays among their base outside the beltway.

In response to Embarrassed by our president: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

  1. <- Lincoln-Douglas
  2. Canadian hate speech ->