Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller.
Israel's bombing raids into Syria appear to have shattered whatever restraint remained in Official Washington toward the United States entering the civil war on the side of rebel forces that include radical jihadist elements. On Monday, the Washington Post's neocon editors weighed in for U.S. intervention as did former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller.
Both the Post's editors and Keller also were key advocates for invading Iraq in 2003 -- and their continued influence reflects the danger of not imposing any accountability on prominent journalists who were wrong on Iraq. Those tough-guy pundits now want much the same interventionism toward Syria and Iran, which always were on the neocon hit list as follow-ons to Iraq.
However, rather than trace the crisis back to Bush's invasion of Iraq -- which the Post eagerly supported -- the editors lament the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq and President Barack Obama's hesitancy to intervene in Syria. Noting the renewed sectarian violence in Iraq, the Post's editors write "it also makes intervention aimed at ending the war in Syria that much more urgent."
Meanwhile, across the top half of Monday's Op-Ed page in the New York Times, Keller urged any pundit chastened by the disastrous Iraq War to shake off those doubts and get behind U.S. military intervention in Syria. His article, entitled "Syria Is Not Iraq," is presented in the same "reluctantly hawkish" tone as his influential endorsement of aggressive war against Iraq in 2003.
Keller's special twist now is that he is citing his misjudgment on Iraq as part of his qualifications for urging President Obama to cast aside doubts about the use of military force in Syria's chaotic civil war and to jump into the campaign for regime change by helping the rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
"Frankly I've shared his [Obama's] hesitation about Syria, in part because, during an earlier column-writing interlude at the outset of the Iraq invasion, I found myself a reluctant hawk. That turned out to be a humbling error of judgment, and it left me gun-shy," Keller wrote. "But in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy."
For the rest of the lengthy article, Keller baited Obama by presenting him as something of a terrified deer frozen in mindless inaction because of the Iraq experience. Keller quoted hawkish former State Department official Vali Nasr as declaring that "We're paralyzed like a deer in the headlights, and everybody keeps relitigating the Iraq war."
Keller then added: "Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq."
No Lessons Learned
But Keller doesn't seem to have learned anything significant from the Iraq catastrophe. Much as he and other pundits did on Iraq, they are putting themselves into the minds of Syria's leaders and assuming that every dastardly deed is carefully calibrated when the reality is that Assad, like Saddam Hussein, has often behaved in a reactive manner to perceived threats.
Assad and many other Alawites (a branch of Shiite Islam) -- along with many Christian Armenians who remain loyal to Assad -- are terrified of what might follow a military victory by the Sunni majority, whose fighting forces are now dominated by Islamic extremists, many with close ties to al-Qaeda.
As the New York Times reported in its news page last month, the black flags of Islamist rule are spreading across "liberated" sectors of Syria.
"Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists," wrote Times correspondent Ben Hubbard. "Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government.
"Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of."
So, it might not be surprising that the Alawite (or Shiite) minority -- not to mention Armenians whose ancestors fled south a century ago to escape a Turkish genocide -- might be acting, to some degree, out of fear and panic. But to Keller and like-minded pundits, the "enemy" is always cruel, cunning and calculating while the American side is committed to peace and slow to take up the military option.