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Across the Great Divide

2:52 PM, Sep 4, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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If this paragraph from the Washington Post does not say it all, then it certainly says most of it:

Americans widely oppose launching missile strikes against the Syrian government for its alleged use of chemical weapons, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that finds little appetite for military action across the country despite a growing drumbeat in Washington.

No doubt there are plenty of people in Washington who would be happy to explain why the public is reluctant and wrong.  Why, on the other hand, Washington is right and has a fine appreciation of the nuances and complexities of the situation and should be trusted.  Why, in short, the people don't get it.

The people, many of whom cannot locate Syria on a map, trust their own instincts which have been informed by experience.  Long, hard experience.  There are have been many of these crises since the United States emerged from the dark ages of isolationism after World War II.  Sometimes Washington got it right and sometimes  it did not.  NATO and the Marshall Plan worked out pretty much as advertised.  But Korea did not.  Washington was surprised when the North Koreans invaded and even more disastrously surprised a few months later when the Chinese came across the Yalu.  

And it has gone pretty much that way ever since.  The Bay of Pigs was a creation of the Washington smart guys.  Then, the Kennedy administration got it right with the missile crisis.  

Washington was sublimely confident it could manage just the right application of force in Vietnam.  Those who lived through those times, could be forgiven for believing that there might be an inverse relationship between Washington's self-confidence and its actual ability in these matters.  Robert McNamara is to millions the archetype for many arrogant Washington fools who have followed.  To include the one who said, recently, that the Obama administration plans a response in Syria that is "just muscular enough not to be mocked."

Outside of Washington, that sounds like crazy talk.  Dangerous crazy talk.  Who talks that way?  Who thinks that way?  Especially about war.  Even if it isn't "... war in the classic sense," as we are no being told by someone who is a Washington figure in the classic sense and was recently seen enjoying a splendid dinner with the man he now calls our enemy, the target of our retribution, and the equivalent of Hitler.  Though, of course, we don't want to do anything that might harm him, run him out of town, kill him (heaven forfend) or in any way result in "regime change."  

So maybe it isn't the people who are confused or ambivalent.  

There is a case for taking it to Assad.  Mike Pompeo and Tom Cotton make it pretty convincingly.  But this is not what the people are hearing from a Washington where the crisis is being treated as something that can be adroitly managed, without regime change or any consequences serious enough to interrupt the congressional vacation or, indeed, business as usual in the Imperial City.

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