Have you ever wondered what emotional torrents coursed through Julius Caesar’s mind in 49 B.C. as he sat astride his war horse on the Gallia Citerior side of the Rubicon? A river in northern Italy, the Rubicon is, by all descriptions, inconsequential except that it marked a boundary between the Celtic portion of Gaul and Rome proper. That the Rubicon ran red due to a clay deposit may have injected a visual element into Caesar’s introspection and final decision. Verbal tribal custom paints Julius Caesar as hesitant. Most of us would be a bit tentative if we were bent on civil war, I think. Julius Caesar, fresh from the fight and high with the conquest of Gaul, knew the rules. Once he led his legions across that river, he either won the insurrection or he died. If he did not say “alea iacta est”, the die is cast, he certainly should have.
Syria has been the source of many good reads of late. Reuters, The Daily Beast, the New York Times, The Guardian, and countless others have screamed of No Fly Zones, Chemical Attacks, Uprising and Civil War, evil Assad and evil rebels. Russia, not wishing to be ignored, added its somber drum beat, Russia faults U.S. over ‘odious’ Syria rights resolution, reports Reuters. Least you assume this is a partisan issue, consider Republican Senators sneaking into Syria to chat up the rebels. Widely reported, the Huffinton Post piece, John McCain Visits Syria To Meet With Rebel Leadership, is complete with pictures. Oh my, really? Opinion pieces, more than one of which refers to the Rubicon, join the fray on cue bringing a certain melody to the haunting, familiar Syrian étude.
Back in Washington, D.C., politicians perform the one dance they do very well, the Cold War Tango with a Syrian twist. Tension, seduction, passion, repressed violence, and danger rivet the masses to the production number leaving the wings and backstage available for other activities. I guess we may take some solace that there is one thing the government does well. When scandals strike at home, diversions occur to divide attention. With a standing military in the diversionary arsenal inventory, the distraction may be wars or threats of wars. In 1948 the Republican congress was elected on a platform that promised a return from war to normalcy, which meant that the Truman administration had to wait for an adequate crisis to justify sending military aid to Europe. Today, too, an adequate crisis is required to send in the troops.
Does Syria rise to the proper crisis level? Bashar al-Assad, a London trained ophthalmologist who enjoys western technology, has been in power for thirteen years. In keeping with his father’s approach, Assad maintained and liberally used the security forces developed under his father’s regime to brutally repress a violent Islamist uprising in the early 1980s. Oh by the way, those violent Islamists also hate the west. The rebels are not our friends. They are avowed and vocal enemies of the western way of life. How odd that the western world is fighting so hard to arm them.
So, It is Assad’s country and he’s been there doing the same thing for a long time. Why, all of a sudden, is this a shocking crisis and one that needs U.S. intervention. Use of chemical agents is one possible justification. Which chemical agents are being used, though? Tear gas? Certainly none of the chemical agent heavy hitters are being deployed or we’d see bloated contorted bodies by the hundreds or thousands lying in their own waste instead of the dozen or so lying in a hospital corridor using oxygen masks.
Let us rewind and review this year’s games. North Korea is on the brink of attack, which lights up the U.S. military then China and Russian troop movements. The Boston bombing reduces North Korea to anonymity. The big fertilizer plant explosion in Texas and the horror of a tornado on Moore, Oklahoma are fading and Syria’s crisis heats up. Scandals and tales of scandals on both sides of the aisle—Michele Bachmann, the IRS, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, DHS ammo purchases, Boehner, Palin, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—leave ordinary Americans cross-eyed, irritable, and tired. Bring in the bad guys from across the sea and be smart about it! Team with the media and build the Syrian situation up. Make the crisis happen oh you brothers and sisters, wives and husbands who team up to work in important government jobs and the media. A good external scare is the best antidote for internal chaos. It refocuses the citizenry and buys time to retool images for the next election.
Of all the legacies from the Cold War (1947-1991), the Cold War Tango to distract awareness from U.S. internal problems is among the most damaging. When the U.S. political system sends the military into chaos it is generally with one arm tied behind their squared away backs. Good men and women die. Were the incursions true military actions, the goal would be to win the war, battle or skirmish. As it stands, the military is used as a political tool to divert attention; to figuratively hold umbrellas for Presidents and members of congress. This particular tactic is very dangerous and one that is used far too often.
The Sryian crisis does not rise to the level of the Rubicon. Rather, it is a Gordian Knot, easily solved by “thinking outside the box”. Ne alea jacta est, the die is not cast.