On Thursday, Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that Syria is “simply not our problem.” I am not a fan of this argument. The civil war in Syria may not be the US government’s “problem,” or at least it shouldn’t be given its record from Vietnam to Iraq of killing the people it ostensibly wants to save, but I don’t think people here should simply avoid addressing a problem because it’s happening to people over there. We should probably just do it without bombs.
Some have called Grayson’s comments disgusting, language they’d never use to describe a US air strike that kills civilians. I think Grayson’s just trying to make what he believes to be the most compelling antiwar argument to the American public: that shit’s bad enough here at home, so what are we doing trying to fix other people’s problems? But Grayson is still perpetuating the idea that one’s concern for a fellow human being should be determined by which nation-state they were born in, which is indeed gross. A better argument is that the US government never goes to war for “humanitarian” reasons and, when it says it does, it ends up making things worse.
But Grayson could be on to something: his argument may be the most compelling to the average American who still thinks Syria is a George Clooney film. And far more troubling than nationalist arguments against killing people is the partisan argument that we ought to maybe just give Obama his little war because: Republicans. That argument was put to Grayson by Hayes, who told the congressman:
You’re going to have a conversation with Nancy Pelosi in the next few days in which she’s going to say to you, not I think implausibly, if this vote goes down you’re destroying the last three years of this president’s administration, you’re destroying his political capital and frittering away any opportunity to get any meaningful legislation passed because you have essentially declared your own party’s president a lame duck.
There’s nothing grosser than the suggestion that we must drop bombs on people in another country, not because it’s a “last resort” or in self-defense or to save the whales or whatnot, but because the president needs his “political capital.” Hayes says he would vote against an attack on Syria were he in Congress, so I don’t fault him for bringing the argument up. It’s revealing, though, as that is clearly the argument on the lips of Democratic partisans or else it wouldn’t make it’s way on to their preferred cable news network.
Indeed, the Democratic partisan’s favorite political magazine, Mother Jones, notes the same argument. As editor David Corn writes, while Democrats in Congress may have “anti-war inclinations” — let’s let that one slide — “this time the decision for many Democrats is more difficult due to the overarching political context.” What’s that context?
The president is about to engage the Republicans on two contentious fronts: a battle over the funding of the federal government (with a possible government shutdown at risk) and a fight over raising the debt ceiling (with a possible financial crisis at risk). And tea party Republicans are attempting to bring Obamacare into the brewing mess. (Their threat: If you don’t defund Obamacare, we’ll shut down the government.) With all this looming, Democrats certainly don’t want Obama’s standing weakened, and if he loses the vote on the Syria resolution, he will be diminished.
There are arguments for and against the bombing of Syria. Some of them are bad, some of them not so bad. That we need to bomb Syrians so Americans can be forced to buy overpriced health insurance is the worst.