The debate about Syria reminds us that a cat can laugh at the King, but the King has the power.

Summary: The debate about Syria shows the weak state of The Republic, the power of the forces building a New America, and the need for urgent action by the American people. We laugh at the antics of the war party, but they seem likely to have the last laugh (again).

“We shall not enter into any of the abstruse definitions of War used by publicists. … War is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.”
— Clausewitz’s On War. Book One, Chapter One, Section 1, paragraph one (1827)

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Pearl Harbor was not war.

Testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria, 3 September 2013:

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Secretary of State Kerry: “President Obama is not asking America to go to war, and I say that sitting next to two men, Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey, who know what war is. Senator McCain knows what war is. They know the difference between going to war and what President Obama is requesting now. We all agree there will be no American boots on the ground.

… I just don’t consider that going to war in the classic sense of coming to Congress and asking for a declaration of war and training troops and sending people abroad and putting young Americans in harm’s way. That’s not what the president is asking for here. General, do you want to speak at all to that?”

General Dempsey (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff):No, not really, Secretary. Thank you for offering.”

Got to love the subtle irony of Dempsey’s reply.

“A cat can laugh at a King” – but the King has the power

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It is easy to mock the powerful. Ha, ha, ha — silly Secretary of State. But the King has power; the cat does not. That the Secretary of State lies to us so brazenly, so casually, is a display of power and confidence. It’s too soon to conclude that his evaluation is wrong. Only the outcome matters. If Obama does attack Syria, all the fuss being made now merely demonstrates his power.

  • Approval in Congress (like Iraq) would demonstrates the President’s imperial primacy in foreign affairs.
  • An attack with no approval (as in Libya) does so even more.
  • An attack despite explicit disapproval in Congress — passage of a motion against intervention, even if only an advisory (ie, not forbidding spending on an attack) — would in effect declare Obama a tyrant (in the classical sense, as one personally wielding the power of the State).

My guess (emphasis on guess), is that the President will attack no matter what Congress says. President Obama can cite precedents and a legal opinion for such actions. For example, see the Memorandum opinion by the Deputy Counsel to the President, 25 September 2001. That legal opinion is supported by many legal scholars, some of whom (eg, Judge Richard Posner) deem him to have truly imperial powers. On this basis his officials have been preparing us for the next step in the expansion of Presidential power: acting in defiance of Congress (There was no explicit vote by Congress against intervention in Libya. The Senate approved, the House neither approved or forbid action).

Q:  Hadn’t the president in essence ceded that leeway {authority to attack Syria} by coming to Congress?

Kerry:  “Constitutionally, every president, Republican and Democrat alike, has always reserved to the presidency, to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the right to make a decision with respect to American security,. … Bill Clinton went to Kosovo over the objections of many people and saved lives and managed to make peace because he did something that was critical at the time. Many presidents have done that. Reagan did it. Bush did it. A lot of presidents have made a decision that they have to protect the nation. … the president reserves the right in the presidency to respond as appropriate to protect the security of our nation.”

— SecState Kerry in an interview with Huffington Post on September 5

Each expansion of Presidential power opens a new vein on the Second Republic, often not clear until later. Such as this:  “The Senate’s Syria Resolution Has a Huge Secret Giveaway to the President“, Garrett Epps, The Atlantic, 6 September 2013 — “Though Congress plays at narrowing Obama’s authority, the draft authorization could actually give him and future presidents sweeping new powers to intervene overseas.”

Conclusions

If we are to re-take control of the Republic we must accept the weakness of our position — and the strength of the President’s.

Even more important, we must realize that making noise accomplishes little by itself. While instrumental as a means, but only when applied by an organization (coalition, movement) as a phase toward greater goals. In the past decade or so protests are street festivals, the equivalent of the largely futile medieval peasants protests. They support the regime as a mechanism to vent anger without effect on policy. That has been so since the last effective protests, when anti-draft protests created the volunteer army (but didn’t end the war: the last US forces withdrew in March 1973, the draft expired in June 1973).

Our only hope lies in learning from methods that have worked in the past. Events such as Syria are like symptoms of syphilis, manifestations of an underlying disease. We can burn all our energy fighting each expansion of government power, and lose. Or organize to seek structural changes, and have the potential to win.

For More Information

Uncle Sam
Each person who commits to reform takes us closer to a better America

Posts about Syria:

Thoughts about reforming America, looking at it as a process:

Other posts about reforming America:

  1. The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  2. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
  3. The sure route to reforming America, 16 November 2010
  4. Important: Should we despair, giving up on America?, 5 May 2012
  5. We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
  6. The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy, 27 June 2013
  7. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013

“No raindrop believes it is responsible for the flood”

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Irresponsibility

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12 thoughts on “The debate about Syria reminds us that a cat can laugh at the King, but the King has the power.

  1. The sort of raw power you suggest here has to be backed up by both money and technical competence, both problematical assets of the current regime.

    1. The US has lots of money, and our military has great technical competence at 2GW and (to a lesser extent) 3GW. The proposed strike at Syria is a simple 2GW exercise. Any Major in WW1 could easily plan it.

    2. I believe this is the first time I have ever cited Karl Rove to back up one of my arguments: “This is an unmitigated disaster,” Rove said on Fox News Sunday. “It’s amateur hour at the White House.” (Huffington Post, 8 September 2013)

      Apparently Rove would have preferred Obama to have acted already and without Congress, but nevertheless he is correct that this is being bungled.

    3. Duncan,

      An alternative perspective: It was likely that there would eventually be pushback to the increasing of the President’s primacy in foreign affairs (esp military interventions). And changes in conditions often catch decision-makers by surprise, making them look dumb. Nothing unusual here. What matters are outcomes, not the noise of the process.

      It is too soon to say how this will end.

  2. It must be Obama who is behind the ‘this is not a war’ business, right? We just need to ‘take an action.’ Everyone laughs because it’s that moment when everyone realizes the boss is psychotic, but no one can say anything. Seems more so because Kerry has always come across as ‘Mr. Insincerity’ — so everything out of his mouth just feels like he doesn’t even quite believe it himself.

    Orwell was genius, really. It’s all about the language. “Take an Action” — newspeak for ‘Killing people.” Maybe Obama has filled his brain with so much nonsense, like ‘teach Assad a lesson’ that he doesn’t actually comprehend that he’s really advocating that we ‘kill a bunch a people.’ To the credit of Americans, nobody is buying it (based on what I’ve seen of the polls.)

    1. Cathryn,

      A President is a team of somewhat like-minded people. Obama has, I guess, a great affinity for liberal hawks like Samantha Powers. Enthusiastic about killing in a good cause.

      Our age’s version of Inquisitors — who, unlike the movies, were often decent caring folk. They would torture you with a warm spirit.

      I agree with the 2nd part of your comment. Orwell is a genius, and we live in a era of NewSpeak.

  3. Dear America, do you understand that you have been played by the Russians? They let you flail about ineffectually for a couple of weeks, then step in and masterfully rework the situation. Is there any way you can explain this other than “The Russians set a trap, and we walked right into it”.?

    Result: the Russians come out looking competent and influential, USA comes out looking weak and incompetent..

    Note for future: do not play chess with the Russians – they are better at it than you are.

    1. Dear Lifetime Friend:

      Much of what you say is true.

      But as for Russian chessmanship: many of the great “Russian” masters were actually Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, or Jewish.

  4. I find the insistence that “this is not a war” uncomfortably reminiscent of a scene from the 2000 TV miniseries “Nuremburg” in which Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop is questioned by British Chief Prosecutor Sir Hartley Shawcross:

    Shawcross: Herr von Ribbentrop, would you agree that as Foreign Minister, you forced Czechoslovakia to surrender its territory by the most intolerable threats of aggression?

    von Ribbentrop: I do not agree.

    Shawcross: You threatened to send your army in, in overwhelming strength, and also bomb Prague. What further pressure could you possibly have put upon them?

    von Ribbentrop: War, for instance.

    Shawcross: War? What is that *but* war?

    It was, of course, self-serving rationalizations like this one and the actions which resulted from it that prompted the tribunal to find von Ribbentrop guilty on all four counts — conspiracy to commit aggression, the commission of aggression, crimes in the conduct of warfare, and crimes against humanity — and condemn him to death by hanging. A little ironic, if you ask me.

    Granted, this is not a perfect analogy since Assad is far from a Boy Scout whereas the accusations made against the Czechoslovakian government by the Nazis as justification for their aggression were most likely highly exaggerated at best if not a complete fabrication…but that hardly excuses our use of the same rationale for which we have tried and executed people in the past.

    1. bluestocking,

      Thanks for the quote, that is quiet illuminating.

      And you are exactly right. Nobody appointed the US as global police, able to break the UN Charter in selective pursuit of bad nations. Will we intervene when the Saudi Princes crush their women and Shiite tribes? Against Israel for stealing land from the Palestinians?

    2. Sadly, FM, I’ve noticed that the US has a remarkably convenient tendency (and a hypocritical one as well, given the way we posture ourselves as supporters and defenders of “freedom”) to turn a blind eye to bad behavior on the part of:

      1) nations which we have reason to consider our allies, even if that alliance is an uneasy one (both Israel and Saudi Arabia fit this category, also China)

      2) nations which have enough firepower of their own to potentially make us rue any interference we might choose to make (China would fit into this category — and potentially the first as well — since their estimated firepower is exceeded only by that of Russia and the US)

      3) nations which have little or nothing to offer us in exchange for any intervention we might make (I would put nations like the Sudan in this category)

      Especially given the third point — that we have a self-serving tendency to intervene only when there is reason to believe that we can profit materially from that intervention either directly or indirectly in some way (oil being perhaps the best example of a motivating factor) — it really shouldn’t be that hard for a halfway perceptive person (or at least, one who is not wearing the flag as a blindfold) to understand why we are despised in some quarters. Our evident willingness to turn us a blind eye when we cannot profit from the intervention as well as our extreme eagerness to intervene when we can actually puts us about on a par with a jackal or a vulture scavenging from a carcass — or something even worse, when you combine this with our increasing tendency (whether deliberate or unconscious) to intervene in ways that tend to create justifications for further interventions like a fireman who is secretly committing arson so that he can come in and save the day.

      Some Americans wonder why we’re bothering with Syria anyway, sayiing that we have no particular interests there. What they apparently fail to realize is that we do have interests in Syria, albeit not necessarily tangible ones. For starters, Syria is a known enemy of Israel which we seem compelled to defend…despite the fact that a country which can hold off three encroaching armies on three separate fronts (as well as being guilty of oppression itself) is far from being helpless. Many of the people who are in favor of US intervention in Syria are operating under the insistent belief (despite all logic and evidence to the contrary) that the WMDs which we failed to find in Iraq were secretly smuggled into Syria.

      What Americans also don’t know is that there may have been plans to take military action in Syria as far back as the George W. Bush administration. Retired general Wesley Clark has gone on the record saying that during a visit to the Pentagon shortly after September 11, he was informed of a plan which would involve invading several other countries as well as Iraq and Afghanistan — and Syria was one of the countries included on that list

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