Here we go again. As Americans prepare to march on Washington, Washington is preparing to march on Damascus. As part of the buildup to war, a chorus of liberal hawks and neoconservatives has issued a new manifesto in—where else?—the Weekly Standard calling upon President Obama to engage in regime change in Syria. Just as they demanded military action to topple Saddam Hussein, so they now are insisting upon the removal of Bashar al-Assad.
Yet if anything might be calculated to give Obama pause before he embarks upon a bombing campaign, it should be this truculent letter, whose signatories include Fouad Ajami, Elliott Abrams, Paul Berman, Eliot A. Cohen, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Bernard-Henri Levy, Tim Palwenty, James Traub, Eric Edelman, Karl Rove, Dan Senor, Martin Peretz and Leon Wieseltier. (At Politico, Dylan Byers astutely notes that the presence of Wieseltier and Peretz should come as no surprise because, "Wieseltier et al. aren't emissaries from the 'new' New Republic, they're stalwarts of the Old Republic. Wieseltier served on the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and Peretz led the magazine's call for military intervention there (he still thinks it was a good idea)." So there you go. The very same crew, by and large, that declared that Iraq could be transformed into a blossoming democracy in 2003. Now it wants to duplicate its roaring success.
Well, not exactly. For one thing, the letter never mentions the term "democracy." So it isn't fair to say that the signatories have remained totally immune to the cataclysmic events they triggered in 2003. Instead, their missive suggests that the "world—including Iran, North Korea, and other potential aggressors who seek or possess weapons of mass destruction—is now watching to see how you respond." It further suggests "direct military strikes against the pillars of the Assad regime." And it minutes that America should "train, and arm moderate elements of Syria's armed opposition, with the goal of empowering them to prevail against both the Assad regime and the growing presence of Al Qaeda-affiliated and other extremist rebel factions in the country."
These are lofty goals. Obama, for a variety of reasons, including his notorious "red line" statement, is in something of a pickle of his own making, and probably has little choice but respond to Assad's defiance. But given the tangled nature of the ethnic and religious conflicts in Syria, the confidence of what the Weekly Standard deems "experts"—the same kind of experts who got America into Vietnam, incidentally, and whom Daniel Patrick Moynihan more colorfully and accurately dubbed "warrior intellectuals"—exude in this letter may perhaps stir some lingering doubts about the efficacy of their prescriptions, particularly when considering that the last ministrations they offered essentially left their most recent patient—Iraq—in a state of prostration and life support for almost a decade. But the anfractuosities of Islam and nationalism have never particularly seemed to worry these experts whose faith in their expertise, you could say, remains pretty unruffled, at least if this letter is anything to go by.